Spaceflight Insider

Juno heads for 5th flyby of Jupiter’s cloud tops

Juno mission: Dark Spot and Jovian 'Galaxy'

This enhanced-color image of a mysterious dark spot on Jupiter seems to reveal a Jovian “galaxy” of swirling storms. (Click for full view) Image & Caption Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Roman Tkachenko

Less than nine months after entering orbit around Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft is set to conduct its fifth close flyby of the giant planet’s cloud tops on Monday, March 27, 2017.

Traveling at a velocity of about 129,000 mph (57.8 km/s), Juno will come within 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) of Jupiter’s cloud tops at 4:52 a.m. EDT (08:52 GMT) Monday morning.

NASA's Juno mission in orbit above the gas giant Jupiter.

Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

Juno contains eight science instruments, all of which will collect data as the probe soars above Jupiter. Data returned from the spacecrafts previous flybys revealed that the planet’s visible belts and zones stretch deep into the gas giant’s interior and its magnetic fields are extremely complex.

Additionally, based on the probe’s previous observations, scientists believe Jupiter’s brilliant auroras are created by a complex transfer of charged particles produced by volcanoes on its large moon Io.

Scientific papers analyzing data collected by Juno on its previous flybys will likely be published in upcoming months.

Juno’s closest flyby of Jupiter brought it within 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers) of the giant planet, a position from which the probe could view the auroras and look through the cloud tops to obtain data. Scientists hope the information gained from such flybys will provide insight into Jupiter’s origins, structure, magnetosphere, and atmosphere.

“This will be our fourth science pass – the fifth close flyby of Jupiter of the mission – and we are excited to see what new discoveries Juno will reveal,” said Principal Investigator Scott Bolton, who is based at San Antonio’s Southwest Research Institute. “Every time we get near Jupiter’s cloud tops, we learn new insights that help us understand this amazing giant planet.”

To avoid radiation damage from Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field, Juno is flying in an elliptical polar orbit around the planet, avoiding its equatorial regions, where the radiation is strongest.

Video courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory




Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

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