NASA releases first photos of Jupiter from New Horizons

Never-before-seen photos of the planet and its moons released to the public. Photos: Pluto probe returns photos of Jupiter

Some of the most detailed photos of Jupiter ever captured were released by NASA on Wednesday.

The photos were part of the data sent back by New Horizons, NASA's piano-size spacecraft en route to Pluto and beyond, that reached the closest point of its Jupiter flyby on Wednesday.

The provided more insight into Jupiter's famed Little Red Spot; a silhouette of the Tvashtar volcano's 150-mile-high dust plume on the moon Io; Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon; and Europa, Jupiter's moon believed to have an ocean under its ice crust.

NASA has not yet released a formal analysis of the photos, which were released to the public via its New Horizons Web site.

While the photos and data from Jupiter are significant, the flyby was part of NASA's plan to use Jupiter's gravity as a slingshot. New Horizons essentially tapped into Jupiter's orbital energy to exceed 52,000 mph, the equivalent of traveling from New York to Tokyo in eight minutes, according to NASA.

"The change in Jupiter's orbit around the Sun due to the flyby is fantastically small," according to a NASA release. New Horizons will absorb about 10 to the -25th power (that's 1 over 10 to the 25th power) of Jupiter's orbital energy. That's like "taking a single drop out of the ocean," Robert Farquhar, formerly the New Horizons mission director at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement. (Farquhar's analogy of an ocean drop is also an inside joke for scientists, as there are an estimated 10 to the 25th power (that's a 1 followed by 25 zeros) drops of water in all the Earth's oceans combined.)

New Horizons, one of the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth, according to NASA, is scheduled to make over 700 observations of Jupiter's atmosphere, moons and rings during its approximately three-month pass. It will then fly the planet's magnetosphere, a tail that extends out away from the sun. New Horizons is scheduled to reach Pluto in July 2015, passing the orbits of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune along the way.

None of NASA's project leaders for the New Horizons was immediately available for comment.

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