Remember when the Juno probe buzzed Earth last October? At 2:21 p.m. (CST) on Oct. 9, the Jupiter-bound spacecraft passed insanely close – just 347 miles (559 km) from Earth’s surface. The purpose of the flyby was to rob our planet of a bit of its gravitational energy to boost the spacecraft’s speed on its way to a Jupiter rendezvous on July 4, 2016.
The slingshot maneuver succeeded and Juno gained a whopping 8,800 mph (7.3 km/sec) of velocity. Without the kick, the voyage would have taken much longer. While we on the ground watched and waited, Juno did the same, snapping low-resolution frames with its Advanced Stellar Compass (camera designed to track faint stars) of the Earth-moon system.
Enjoy the video at several different speeds along with a fitting soundtrack
“If Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise said, ‘Take us home, Scotty,’ this is what the crew would see,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio.
The video, the first of its kind showing the spinning Earth and revolving moon, proved tricky to make. Consider that Juno whizzed by at 90,000 mph (149,000 km/hr) relative to the sun and spun at the rate of two revolutions per minute.
To capture the pictures to make a movie that wouldn’t make your head spin, the star tracker had to take a photo each time the camera faced Earth at the right instant. I get a headache just imagining this.
The frames were transmitted to Earth and assembled into the video. Press your face against the virtual window and feel what it’s like to be a space traveler. My favorite part was watching the moon distance itself from the spinning Earth – it reminded me of a ballet dancer released by her partner to solo for the crowd.
Juno took its name from the Roman chief goddess and counterpart of Jupiter. Jupiter, king of the gods, attempted to hide his marital indiscretions from his wife by drawing a veil of clouds around himself, but the goddess Juno used her special powers to peer through the clouds and expose his true nature.
Mythology will become science in 2016 when NASA’s Juno will peer deep into the giant planet’s atmosphere to study its composition and clouds. Kicked up a notch by a brief appearance in the Earth-moon ballet, it’s already halfway there.