Smile, Earthlings: Jupiter Mission Captures Flyby Portrait

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More than two years after setting off for Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft found itself back at Earth earlier this month to pick up more speed for its trip beyond the asteroid belt.

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Rather than another rocket ride, this time it was Earth’s gravity that provided a 15,000 miles (24,000 kilometers) per hour boost to slingshot Juno out toward Jupiter. The probe came as close as about 347 miles (560 kilometers) to Earth during the Oct. 9 flyby. It is now zipping toward Jupiter at about 93,000 miles (150,000 kilometers) per hour.

Juno, in return, provided a picture of the home planet, which NASA released on Monday.

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Juno was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Aug. 5, 2011. It is due to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. The spacecraft is designed to probe the giant planet’s interior, atmosphere and magnetosphere, information that scientists need to figure out how Jupiter formed.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems