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Juno approaches 6th science perijove and a peek at the Great Red Spot

Juno to fly over Jupiter's Great Red Spot

On July 10, 2017, Juno will fly over Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot. Photo Credit: NASA

Just a few days after the one-year anniversary of Junos insertion into orbit above Jupiter, the spacecraft will make its sixth science pass over the planet’s cloud tops. Each pass has brought scientists closer to understanding fundamental questions about the largest planet in the Solar System. The pass on July 10, 2017, will be one of special interest, as it will be passing over the iconic Great Red Spot.

The spot measures more than 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) in width and is known to have existed for at least 187 years. The giant crimson-hued storm is larger than the Earth in diameter and is the best-known feature of Jupiter.

NASA's Juno spacecraft entered into polar orbit above Jupiter on July 5, 2016. Image Credit: JPL / NASA

NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered into polar orbit above Jupiter on July 5, 2016. Image Credit: JPL / NASA

In preparation for this perijove (close pass over Jupiter), the Juno team combined forces with ground-based telescopes in order to obtain observations of the gas giant across the electromagnetic spectrum.

This collaboration included scientists from Gemini North, Subaru, University of California (Berkeley), Tohoku University (Japan), and elsewhere, to enhance the understanding of this longstanding feature.

Simultaneous observations of Jupiter from the Gemini North and Subaru telescopes on Mauna Kea peak in Hawaii on May 18, 2017, allowed for the team to obtain very high-resolution data at wavelengths that Juno isn’t capable of obtaining.

This method of observing helps to provide atmospheric dynamic information at different depths of the Great Red Spot along with other regions of Jupiter.

Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, indicated that these ground-based observations would enhance Juno’s planned observation by giving a “one-two punch” in exploring Jupiter by providing three key needs:

  • Spatial context by being able to see the whole planet at once
  • Extend and fill in the temporal context by being able to see Jupiter’s features over a span of time
  • Supplement the information with wavelengths of the magnetic spectrum that are not available from Juno

Gemini North provided observational data in the near infrared and revealed a mixture of methane and hydrogen in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and clouds, with long fine structured waves extending off the eastern side of the Great Red Spot.

The Subaru telescope observed with its Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrometer (COMICS) and was able to distinguish some characteristics of the Great Red Spot. Specifically, the interior of the Great Red Spot proved to be very cold and cloudy with chaotic turbulences that dissipated into warmer and clearer cloud structures further out in the Great Red Spot’s periphery.

This data will all be used along with the data that Juno obtains on July 10, 2017, at perijove, when the spacecraft will zoom over the Great Red Spot within 5.600 miles (9,000 kilometers) directly above its cloud tops. All eight of Juno’s instruments will be active, along with the public JunoCam imaging device.

As of July 4, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. PDT, the one-year anniversary of Juno’s insertion into orbit around Jupiter, the spacecraft will have logged about 71 million miles (114.5 million kilometers) in orbit around Jupiter.

The sixth of Juno’s perijoves will begin at 6:55 p.m. PDT (9:55 p.m. EDT) on Monday, July 10, 2017. At its closest approach, Juno will fly just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) above Jupiter’s cloud tops, and it will take only 11 minutes and 33 seconds for Juno to travel the 24,713 miles (39,771 kilometers) across Jupiter to the South Equatorial Belt, and the location of the Great Red Spot.

The new data will be added to the already stunning early science data that has been returned which indicates that Jupiter is a turbulent world, with an intriguingly complex interior structure, unique energetic polar aurora, and huge polar cyclones, unlike anything that was previously seen in the Solar System.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.

Video courtesy of NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory



A native of the Greater Los Angeles area, Ocean McIntyre's writing is focused primarily on science (STEM and STEAM) education and public outreach. McIntyre is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador as well as holding memberships with The Planetary Society, Los Angeles Astronomical Society, and is a founding member of McIntyre is currently studying astrophysics and planetary science with additional interests in astrobiology, cosmology and directed energy propulsion technology. With SpaceFlight Insider seeking to expand the amount of science articles it produces, McIntyre was a welcomed addition to our growing team.

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