This Saturday at 12:51 UTC, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will get closer to the cloud tops of Jupiter than at any other time during its prime mission. At the moment of closest approach, Juno will be about 4,200 kilometres (2,500 miles) above Jupiter’s swirling clouds and traveling at 208,000 kilometres 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 of 2018). The 27 August flyby will be the first time Juno will have its entire suite of science instruments activated and looking at the giant planet as the spacecraft zooms past.
“This is the first time we will be close to Jupiter since we entered orbit on 4 July,” says 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 upcoming flyby Juno’s eyes and ears, our science instruments, will all be 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 says.
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,” says 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 will Juno’s suite of eight science instruments be on, the spacecraft’s visible light imager – JunoCam will also be snapping some close-ups. 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 during the later part of next week.