A probe flown by the US space agency Nasa is about to make its first close approach to the planet Jupiter since going into orbit in July. Juno will pass just 4,200km above the cloud tops of the gas giant on Saturday. No previous spacecraft has got so close to the world during the main phase of its mission.
Juno will have all its instruments – and its camera – switched on for the encounter. Nasa expects to be in a position to release some images from the approach in the next few days. They will be the highest resolution pictures ever obtained of Jupiter’s clouds.
The moment of closest approach is set for 12:51 GMT. At that time, Juno will be moving at 208,000km/h with respect to the planet, sweeping from north to south over the multi-banded atmosphere.
Various probes have taken images of Jupiter, but Juno’s will be the highest resolution yetThe probe became gravitationally bound to Jupiter on 5 July after a five-year, 2.8-billion-km journey from Earth. Executing a carefully choreographed engine burn, the spacecraft put itself in a large ellipse around the world that takes some 53 days to traverse.
“[On 5 July] we turned all our instruments off to focus on the rocket burn to get Juno into orbit around Jupiter,” explained principal investigator Scott Bolton. “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,” the the Southwest Research Institute scientist said in a Nasa statement.
Edited from: Probe set for science pass of Jupiter