Juno is on a 53.5-day orbit of Jupiter, and right now it's swinging out and away from the planet's surface. On Sunday, when these images were taken, Juno was 2.7 million miles away from Jupiter's swirling clouds. That's about 11 times as far as the moon is from Earth. But at the closest approaches of its orbit, the basketball-court-size spacecraft will come within 2,600 miles of the planet — just about as far as New York is from Los Angeles.
This first image shows Jupiter's Great Red Spot, an ancient, mysterious storm that has started to shrink. It also shows three of Jupiter's four largest moons. Io, Europa and Ganymede are all present, from left to right. Io is a moon with marvelous volcanic activity that may contribute to Jupiter's stunning aurora light shows. Europa and Ganymede are both thought to contain subsurface oceans that could potentially support life.
The Junocam is a color, visible-light camera that will help scientists study Jupiter's polar regions and cloud cover. But it's actually not considered a scientific instrument: It was put onboard as part of a public engagement effort. The Juno team is working to put captured images online for public consumption, and it will continue to share them during the spacecraft's 37 orbits over the next year.
Juno's data collection will start in earnest at the end of August, when Juno gets a little closer. We'll start to see high-resolution images of the planet Aug. 27, when Juno makes those first close passes.
"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," Scott Bolton, principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement. "We can't wait to see the first view of Jupiter's poles."