Image: New Horizons image of Jupiter
New Horizons' picture of Jupiter shows two Jovian moons, Europa and Io, and their shadows.
updated 9/26/2006 6:46:07 PM ET 2006-09-26T22:46:07

NASA's New Horizons probe, bound for Pluto, snapped an image of Jupiter that astronomers said serves as a promise of what's to come early next year when the craft nears the gas giant planet.

New Horizons won't reach Pluto until 2015. Meantime, it is testing out its equipment on a much larger target.

The craft was about 181 million miles (291 million kilometers) away from Jupiter when the image was snapped with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI.

"New Horizons is speeding toward this majestic planet at 45,000 miles per hour, right on target for a close encounter on Feb. 28 of next year," said New Horizons project scientist Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where LORRI was designed and built. "LORRI's resolution at Jupiter will be 125 times better than now, and we're really looking forward to getting the most detailed views of the Jovian system since Cassini's flyby in late 2000 and Galileo's final images in 2003."

Now on the outskirts of the asteroid belt, LORRI snapped this image during a test sequence to help prepare for the Jupiter encounter observations.

"LORRI's first Jupiter image is all we could have expected," says LORRI principal investigator Andy Cheng, who is also based at the Applied Physics Laboratory. "We see belts, zones and large storms in Jupiter's atmosphere. We see the Jovian moons Io and Europa, as well as the shadows they cast on Jupiter. It is most gratifying to detect these moons against the glare from Jupiter."

Recently, the camera took a photo of stars to show that it worked.

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