NASA’s Juno spacecraft on Saturday successfully executed the closest approach ever to Jupiter by a probe orbiting the planet, coming within about 4200 kilometers above the planet’s clouds. This is the nearest that the spacecraft will get to the planet until February 2018, when it will plunge toward Jupiter in a planned mission-ending crash.
Soon after the close approach, the Juno Twitter account proclaimed on 27 August, “Soarin’ over #Jupiter. My 1st up-close look of the gas-giant world was a success!”
When it was nearest to the giant planet at 13:44 Coordinated Universal Time (9:44 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time), Juno sped past Jupiter at 208,000 kilometers per hour with respect to the planet, according to NASA.
Intriguing Early Data
“We are getting some intriguing early data returns as we speak,” said Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, who is Juno’s principal investigator. “It will take days for all the science data collected during [Juno’s] flyby to be downlinked and even more to begin to comprehend what Juno and Jupiter are trying to tell us.”
NASA anticipates releasing some pictures from Juno’s visible light imager, JunoCam, over the next couple of weeks, including close-ups of the planet’s atmosphere and views of its north and south poles.
During Saturday’s flyby, the first of 36 similar passes Juno is expected to carry out, the spacecraft observed Jupiter with its entire ensemble of science instruments activated for the first time.
The Juno spacecraft launched on 5 August 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and initially entered orbit around Jupiter on 4 July.
—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer