Moment of Wonder: Juno sends its first snaps

pia20707_figaDid I mention NASA’s Juno mission yesterday? Well, it looks like mind-blowing images are already starting to arrive from Jupiter.

The camera aboard the Juno spacecraft has sent its first images after its July 4 arrival, NASA announced yesterday. The visible-light camera switched on six days after the craft fired its main engine and propelled itself into orbit around the gas giant.

Pretty impressive, I’d say. Especially considering high-resolution images of Jupiter are still a few weeks away, according to NASA. Those start arriving August 27.

The shot above was taken June 10, when Juno was still 2.7 million miles from Jupiter on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day orbit. It shows the Jovian planet’s atmospheric features, including its eye-like Great Red Spot. You can see three of the planet’s four largest moons — Io, Europa and Ganymede, from left to right.

During its mission, Juno will circle Jupiter 37 times, doing flybys of the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,600 miles. Sounds there’s plenty of wonder yet to come.

Moment of Wonder: Ceres’ permanent shadows

I missed my opportunity to get excited about NASA’s Juno mission, which entered Jupiter’s orbit when I was spending time away from the blog. (I needed to finish up edits on a novel.)

Hopefully this bit of cosmic craziness makes up for my truancy.

Here’s the deal: It appears one of NASA’s other missions, Dawn, has helped scientists identify permanently shadowed regions on the dwarf planet Ceres. Most of these spots have probably been cold enough to trap water ice for a billion years, meaning it’s possible ice deposits exist there now.

Ceres is the largest object in the astroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s also been of particular interest to scientists because a remnant internal ocean of liquid water might be contained under its icy mantle.

“The conditions on Ceres are right for accumulating deposits of water ice,” said Norbert Schorghofer, a Dawn guest investigator at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Ceres has just enough mass to hold on to water molecules, and the permanently shadowed regions we identified are extremely cold — colder than most that exist on the moon or Mercury.”

The permanently shadowed regions lie along the northern hemisphere of Ceres. NASA used images taken by the Dawn mission combined with computer modeling of illumination to run its calculations and to develop the cool video above.

If you really want to drill down into the subject (pardon the pun), the findings are available online.