Juno Looks Back Home
It’s not the famous “pale blue dot” image, but it sure is close: on August 26 the Juno spacecraft turned its JunoCam to take this image of the Earth and the Moon from a distance of about 6 million miles. From that distance, our world is effectively reduced to a bright fuzzy dot, with a smaller, darker fuzzy dot alongside it.
That’s it. That’s all there is, at least in terms of every living thing that we know has ever existed – and many more things we don’t know of yet. All on the surface of that bright fuzzy dot.
And 6 million miles isn’t even very far, not in terms of space. 24 times the distance to the Moon. Well short of any other planets, that’s for sure. Even well short of the Trojan asteroid recently discovered within our planet’s orbit. It’s nothing, really, that 6 million miles. Literally a whisper of the way to Juno’s ultimate destination, the planet Jupiter in 2016. Not even four weeks of travel yet, and we’re reduced to a handful of pixels.
Humbling, isn’t it?
Yet beautiful at the same time. Beautiful and amazing that we can be thus reduced, yet still have a presence out there.
This is the type of thing that I wish were publicized more, printed on the covers of newspapers around the world and flashed on nightly news screens. Images like this are what should resonate in people’s minds, not expense reports and soccer schedules and what a Kardashian wore last weekend. And even if those things are important to some people, there should still be some room for things like this.
“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available – once the sheer isolation of the Earth becomes known – a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” – Sir Fred Hoyle
After launch on August 5, 2011, Juno covered the distance from Earth to the moon (about 250,000 miles or 402,000 kilometers) in less than one day’s time. It will take the spacecraft another five years and 1,740 million miles (2,800 million kilometers) to complete the journey to Jupiter. The spacecraft will orbit the planet’s poles 33 times and use its eight science instruments to probe beneath the gas giant’s obscuring cloud cover to learn more about its origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere, and look for a potential solid planetary core.