NASA's Juno Spacecraft Offers A 'Star Trek' View Of Earth, Moon
December 10, 2013

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Offers A ‘Star Trek’ View Of Earth, Moon

[ Watch the video: Earth and Moon Seen by Passing Juno Spacecraft ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

When NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew past Earth earlier this fall it provided a one-of-a-kind view of our planet and the moon.

Juno flew past Earth on October 9, giving it an 8,000 mile-per-hour boost to help it with its journey to Jupiter. During the flyby, Juno traveled about twice as fast as a typical satellite and was spinning at a rate of about two revolutions per minute. Cameras on board the spacecraft took images as Juno flew by, giving what NASA called a "Star Trek"-type look.

"If Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise said, ‘Take us home, Scotty,’ this is what the crew would see," Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, said in a statement. “In the movie, you ride aboard Juno as it approaches Earth and then soars off into the blackness of space. No previous view of our world has ever captured the heavenly waltz of Earth and moon."

NASA used a special camera optimized to track faint stars to give the low-resolution glimpse of Earth. The star tracker had to capture a frame each time the camera was facing Earth at exactly the right instant. The frames were then sent back to Earth to be processed into a video.

"Everything we humans are and everything we do is represented in that view," John Jørgensen of the Danish Technical University and the star tracker's designer, said in a statement.

The cameras are part of Juno’s Magnetic Field Investigation (MAG) and are normally used to determine the orientation of the magnetic sensors. Earth and the moon came into view when Juno was about 600,000 miles away, or about three times the Earth-moon separation.

Juno’s Waves instrument also took a few measurements while making the flyby. This instrument is tasked with measuring radio and plasma waves in Jupiter’s magnetosphere. While Juno was flying past Earth and the moon, the Waves instrument recorded amateur radio signals as part of a public outreach where NASA invited people to say “HI” to Juno by coordinating radio transmissions that carried Morse-code.

The spacecraft is now on pace to reach the solar system’s largest planet on July 4, 2016. Juno’s launch vehicle was only capable of giving the spacecraft enough energy to reach the asteroid belt, so mission planners designed a route past Earth to work as a gravity assist to increase Juno’s speed relative to the sun helping it reach its next destination.

When Juno arrives at Jupiter the spacecraft will circle the planet 33 times, from pole to pole, and use its collection of science instruments to peer into the planet’s obscuring cloud cover. Scientists hope Juno teaches them more about Jupiter’s origins, internal structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.