NASA’s Juno spacecraft flies by Earth, captures this incredible video

The video above, taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it zipped past Earth on Oct. 9, may be imperfect, but it will give you chills.

Captured with sensors designed to track faint stars rather than rocky planets, the video begins just as the Earth-and-moon system has come into Juno’s view, 600,000 miles in the distance.

As Juno flies in closer, you can see the small white dot of the moon gliding silently around a fuzzy blue Earth. Closer still, and the moon moves off into the margins as our spinning planet takes up more of the field of view.

PHOTOS: Moons of the solar system


“If Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise said, ‘Take us home, Scotty,’ this is what the crew would see,” Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement. “No previous view of our world has ever captured the heavenly waltz of Earth and moon.”

John Jorgensen, a researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, and the guy who designed the faint star sensors, put it this way: “Everything we humans are and everything we do is represented in that view.”

The video was a bit of a challenge to create. The spacecraft is spinning as it moves through space, so the sensors had just an instant when they were properly positioned to snap each frame in the movie. The individual frames were sent back to Earth and processed into the video you see above.

The October flyby was part of a convoluted flight plan to get Juno to Jupiter -- its ultimate destination. The spacecraft’s launch vehicle had only enough power to get it to the asteroid belt just past the orbit of Mars. So mission planners decided to let the sun’s gravity pull Juno back toward Earth, and then have the spacecraft slingshot around our planet for what is called a gravity assist.

(Bill Nye “the Science Guy” has an excellent and animated explanation of how that works.)

Right after this video was shot, Juno got a boost in speed of more than 8,800 mph. It is now on schedule to reach Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

We’d like to wish it good luck, and to say thank you for sending back this moving postcard from its journey.

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