NASA’s Juno orbiter has executed its first and closest orbital flyby of Jupiter at Aug. 24 at 6:44 AM PDT (9:44 AM EDT, 13:44 UTC). Juno passed about 4,200 kilometers above Jupiter’s clouds, marking the first of the 36 orbital flybys of the gas giant planned.
The flyby was the nearest Juno will get to the planet during its prime mission. The spacecraft was travelling at 208,000 kilometers per hour.
It came through without suffering damage, and its telemetry shows everything worked as planned. The space agency is expected to release the captured images over the next two weeks, which also includes the highest-resolution images taken of Jupiter’s atmosphere as well as its north and south poles. The scientists say that these images will give us a new perspective on Jupiter.
“We are getting some intriguing early data returns as we speak,” points out Juno’s principal investigator Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “It will take days for all the science data collected during the flyby to be downlinked and even more to begin to comprehend what Juno and Jupiter are trying to tell us.”
The remaining 35 flybys of the gas giant are scheduled to end in February 2018.
The JunoCam camera aboard the Juno spacecraft sent the first photograph captured from Jupiter’s orbit on July 10, 2016 at 10:30 AM PDT (1:30 PM EDT, 5:30 UTC) when it was 4.3 million kilometers away from the planet. The photo shows Jupiter’s Great Red spot, the planet’s other atmospheric features as well as its moons Io, Europa and Ganymede.
The Juno spacecraft was launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It arrived on Jupiter five years later on July 4, 2016.
JPL manages the Juno mission for Bolton. The spacecraft was built by the Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. It is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.