PASADENA, Calif. -- A NASA spacecraft has sent back the first pictures since arriving at Jupiter.
An image released Tuesday shows Jupiter surrounded by three of its four largest moons. The picture was taken on Saturday when the Juno spacecraft was circling 3 million miles away. Even at that distance, Jupiter's Great Red Spot -- a centuries-old atmospheric storm -- was visible.
Despite fears of radiation damage or a possibly crippling high-speed impact with debris in Jupiter's tenuous ring, NASA's Juno probe safely braked into orbit around the giant planet last week, firing its main engine for 35 tense minutes to slow down enough to be captured in the planned polar orbit, elated mission managers said last Tuesday, CBS News' William Harwood reported.
Because of Jupiter's distance from Earth -- 540 million miles -- flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory could not follow along in realtime, they had to wait 48 minutes for radio signals to cross the vast gulf, confirming the start of the burn. And by that time, it was already over.
"NASA did it again! That says it all to me," Scott Bolton, the Juno principal investigator, exclaimed at a post orbit-insertion news conference. "And I am so happy to be part of the team that did that. This team has worked so hard, and we have just such great people. It's almost like a dream coming true right here. ... And now the fun begins. The science!"
Juno entered orbit around Jupiter last week after a five-year journey. It's on a 20-month mission to map the giant planet's poles, atmosphere and interior.
During the approach, the camera and instruments were powered off as a precaution as Juno braved the intense radiation. The instruments were turned back on several days after the arrival.
Scientists have said close-ups of Jupiter won't come until next month when Juno swings back around.