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Motion of Earth and moon recorded by Juno spacecraft

Posted: December 10, 2013

NASA's Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft recorded a video of the Earth-moon system during a high-speed flyby in October, revealing an unprecedented view of the two worlds locked in a cosmic dance against the dark abyss of space.

The images were captured by a low-resolution camera mounted at the end of one of Juno's three solar array wings.

This cosmic pirouette of Earth and our moon was captured by the Juno spacecraft as it flew by Earth on Oct. 9, 2013. The music accompaniment is an original score by Vangelis. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
"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 in San Antonio. "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."

A camera named the advanced stellar compass, built by the Danish Technical University near Copenhagen, collected still imagery during the flyby and engineers on the ground stitched the pictures into a movie.

The advanced stellar compass is part of Juno's magnetometer instrument, and its four cameras track faint stars to determine Juno's position in space.

Scientists said the cameras started taking pictures of Earth when it was about 600,000 miles away and continued snapping photos until its closest point to the planet.

"Everything we humans are and everything we do is represented in that view," said John Jørgensen, the star tracker's designed from DTU, in a NASA press release.

Juno used the Oct. 9 flyby to gain speed on its way to Jupiter, where it will arrive July 4, 2016.

The spacecraft slipped into a fault-protection condition known as safe mode twice during the flyby sequence, but officials said the safe modes were triggered by understood minor glitches.

The $1.1 billion mission will examine the giant planet's crushing atmosphere, powerful magnetic field and deep interior.

Scientists say discoveries at Jupiter could yield insights into the planet's origin and the formation of the solar system. Clues hidden inside Jupiter, likely the oldest of the solar system's planets, could lead researchers to understand how the solar system formed and evolved 4.5 billion years ago.

Juno will orbit Jupiter 33 times, looping over the gas giant's poles and returning the closest images of the planet's ceaseless auroras.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.