Just days before the end of its 5-year-long journey, Juno pointed its high-resolution color camera — the “JunoCam” — at Jupiter, capturing in the process a spectacular series of images that were later assembled by NASA scientists into a time-lapse video. The video, released Monday, shows four Jovian moons — Europa, Io, Callisto and Ganymede — dancing around the gas giant.
“This is the beast we're going after,” Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said at a press conference Monday while unveiling the pictures. “In all of history, we’ve never really been able to see the motion of any heavenly body against another.”
Unlike most spacecraft cameras, JunoCam was specially designed to work on a spinning spacecraft. Until now, the best images of Jupiter were taken by the Voyager spacecraft, which flew past the planet in 1979. JunoCam’s field of view is much wider than that of Voyager's narrow-angle camera, and, as a result, every JunoCam image is a kind of panorama.
At closest approach, JunoCam will snap photos from only 3,100 miles above Jupiter's clouds. To prepare for when that happens, scientists at NASA want to get people across the world involved in deciding what JunoCam will capture during its orbits of Jupiter. Amateur astronomers, students and those interested in the mission can, come fall, go to this website and begin voting on what points of interest in the gas giant’s atmosphere Juno should focus its sights on.
“This is really the public's camera. We are hoping students and whole classrooms will get involved and join our team,” Bolton said in December. “This is citizen science at its best.”
The “discussion” phase of the unique initiative, wherein members of the general public are invited to select the points of interest, is already open. Unsurprisingly, the Great Red Spot — a gigantic storm system that is twice as wide as Earth — seems to be the hot favorite.
“JunoCam will capture high-resolution color views of Jupiter's bands, but that's only part of the story,” Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said. “We'll also be treated to the first-ever views of Jupiter's north and south poles, which have never been imaged before.”