The Big Dipper as imaged on March 21, 2012, by the JunoCam instrument aboard NASA's Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft.
Launched on Aug. 5, 2011, the solar-powered Juno spacecraft is 279 days and 380 million miles (612 million kilometers) into its five-year, 1,905-million-mile (3,065-million-kilometer) journey to Jupiter. Once there, the spacecraft will orbit the planet's poles 33 times and use its nine instruments to image and probe beneath the gas giant's obscuring cloud cover to learn more about Jupiter's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere, and look for a potential solid planetary core.
One of those instruments, JunoCam, is tasked with taking closeups of the gas giant's atmosphere. But, with four-and-a-half years to go before photons of light from Jupiter first fill its CCD (charge-coupled device), and a desire to certify the camera in flight, Juno's mission planners took a page from their childhood and on March 21, aimed their camera at a familiar celestial landmark.
More information about Juno is online at http://www.nasa.gov/juno and http://missionjuno.swri.edu/.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. JunoCam was developed and is operated by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.