NASA's Juno Spacecraft Soars Closest to Jupiter
On Saturday, August 27, NASA’s Juno spacecraft got closer to the cloud tops of Jupiter than at any other time during its prime mission. At the moment of closest approach, Juno was about 4200 kilometers (2500 miles) above Jupiter’s swirling clouds and traveling at 208,000 kilometers per hour (130,000 miles per hour) with respect to the planet. There are 35 more close flybys of Jupiter scheduled during its prime mission (scheduled to end in February 2018). The August 27 flyby was the first time Juno had its entire suite of science instruments activated and looking at the giant planet as the spacecraft zoomed past.
“This is the first time we [were] close to Jupiter since we entered orbit on July 4,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Back then we turned all our instruments off to focus on the rocket burn to get Juno into orbit around Jupiter. Since then, we have checked Juno from stem to stern and back again. We still have more testing to do, but we are confident that everything is working great, so for this flyby Juno’s eyes and ears, our science instruments, [were] all open.”
“This is our first opportunity to really take a close-up look at the king of our solar system and begin to figure out how he works,” Bolton said.
While the science data from the pass should be downlinked to Earth within days, interpretation and first results are not expected for some time.
“No other spacecraft has ever orbited Jupiter this closely, or over the poles in this fashion,” said Steve Levin, Juno project scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This is our first opportunity and there are bound to be surprises. We need to take our time to make sure our conclusions are correct.”
Not only were Juno’s suite of eight science instruments on, but the spacecraft’s visible light imager — JunoCam — also snapped some closeups. A handful of JunoCam images, including the highest-resolution imagery of the jovian atmosphere and the first glimpse of Jupiter’s north and south poles, are expected to be released later this week.
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Mission Juno (SWRI)
Juno Mission (NASA)