NASA's Juno spacecraft has sent back to Earth the first pictures it has captured of Jupiter since it arrived at the Solar System's largest planet on July 4.
In a photo the U.S. space agency released on Tuesday, the spacecraft captured an image of Jupiter along with three of its largest moons: Europa, Ganymede and Io.The photo also shows the planet's famous Great Red Spot, a centuries-old atmospheric storm, and some of its cloud belts.
The probe took Jupiter's photos using its JunoCam instrument on July 10. At the time, the spacecraft was about 2.7 million miles from Jupiter.
JunoCam, which serves as Juno's eyes during its mission, is a color, visible-light camera that was designed to take remarkable images of the poles and cloud tops of Jupiter. It was included on the spacecraft for public engagement. While the images it will capture may be helpful to scientists, NASA said that it is not considered as one of the science instruments of the Juno mission.
Scientists said that high resolution images of the planet would be weeks away. Juno co-investigator Candy Hansen, from the Planetary Science Institute, said that JunoCam will take the first high resolution images of the gas giant on Aug. 27, when the spacecraft makes its next close pass to Jupiter.
Juno, which entered Jupiter's orbit earlier this month after a five-year travel from Earth aims to map the giant planet's poles. The 20-month mission will also gather data that could shed light on the atmosphere and interior of Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun.
During the probe's approach to the gas giant, NASA scientists powered off its camera and instruments as a precaution since Juno would have to encounter harsh radiation during its orbit insertion maneuver on July 5.
"We had to turn all our beautiful instruments off to help ensure a successful Jupiter orbit insertion on July 4," said principal investigator Scott Bolton, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
The visible-light camera was powered back on six days after the probe inserted itself into orbit.
"This scene from JunoCam indicates it survived its first pass through Jupiter's extreme radiation environment without any degradation and is ready to take on Jupiter," said Bolton. "We can't wait to see the first view of Jupiter's poles."
Juno is the seventh robotic probe to visit planet Jupiter over the past 45 years.