NASA's Juno probe captures first-ever shot of a moon moving

In the history of astronomy, nobody has directly seen the movement of one celestial body against another, until now. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS
NASA's Juno spacecraft captured this photo on June 28, 2016, at a distance of 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kilometers) from Jupiter.

NASA's Juno probe has just given humanity a new perspective on the cosmos.

In the weeks leading up to the spacecraft's arrival at Jupiter Monday night (July 4), Juno captured a stunning video of the four Galilean moons — Callisto, Europa, Ganymede and Io — circling the giant planet in a first-of-its-kind view of celestial dynamics.

"In all of history, we've really never been able to see the motion of any heavenly body against another," Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton said Monday night during a news conference here at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory after Juno's successful arrival. [Juno Spacecraft's July 4 Jupiter Arrival: Complete Mission Coverage]

"This is the king of our solar system and its disciples going around it," added Bolton, who's based at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "To me, it's very significant, because we're finally able to see — with real video, with real pictures — this motion, and we've only been able to imagine it up until today."

The Juno video is a shout-out of sorts to one of history's greatest scientists. In 1610, famed Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered the moons subsequently called Galilean, and he deduced from their movement over the course of multiple nights that they orbit Jupiter.

"It was a revelation, and it changed our culture and our perspective of ourselves forever: Earth was not the center," Bolton said just before unveiling the video.

"He imagined this, and after that, for centuries, we have imagined how the planets move and how the stars move, and we've only been aided with computer animation or the efforts of Hollywood," Bolton added. "Well, tonight that's going to change."

During it’s final approach to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this unique time-lapse movie of the Galilean satellites in motion about the planet. The movie begins with images taken on June 12th when Juno was 10 million miles from Jupiter, and ends on June 29th, at 3 million miles distant. The innermost moon is volcanic Io; next in line is the ice-crusted ocean world Europa, followed by massive Ganymede, and finally, heavily cratered Callisto.

The video is composed of images Juno took with its JunoCam instrument between June 12 and June 29, as the spacecraft closed the distance to Jupiter from 10 million miles (16 million kilometers) to 3 million miles (5 million km), NASA officials said.

Other dramatic visuals should be in the offing; Bolton said the Juno team plans to capture another video as the spacecraft loops back around toward another close approach of Jupiter in late August. (Juno was captured Monday night into a highly elliptical 53-day orbit; in October, the probe will perform another engine burn to shift over to its 14-day science orbit. Juno will then study Jupiter's composition, interior structure, and magnetic and gravitational fields in detail through February 2018.)

The $1.1 billion Juno mission launched in August 2011. The probe's observations should help scientists better understand the origins of Jupiter and, by extension, the solar system's early days, mission team members have said.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

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