Washington: Nasa’s Juno spacecraft is set to fly directly over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot—the gas giant’s iconic 16,000-kilometre-wide storm. This will be humanity’s first up-close and personal view of the gigantic feature—a storm monitored since 1830 and possibly existing for more than 350 years.
“Jupiter’s mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter. This monumental storm has raged on the solar system’s biggest planet for centuries," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
“Now, Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special," said Bolton.
The data collection of the Great Red Spot is part of Juno’s sixth science flyby over Jupiter’s mysterious cloud tops. Perijove—the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter’s centre—will be on 10 July. At the time of perijove, Juno will be about 3,500 kilometres above the planet’s cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno will have covered another 39,771 kilometres and will be directly above the coiling crimson cloud tops of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
The spacecraft will pass about 9,000 kilometres above the Giant Red Spot clouds. All eight of the spacecraft’s instruments as well as its imager, JunoCam, will be on during the flyby. On 4 July, Juno will have logged exactly one year in Jupiter orbit. At the time, the spacecraft will have chalked up about 114.5 million kilometres in orbit around the giant planet.
“The success of science collection at Jupiter is a testament to the dedication, creativity and technical abilities of the Nasa-Juno team," said Rick Nybakken, project manager for Juno from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US.
“Each new orbit brings us closer to the heart of Jupiter’s radiation belt, but so far the spacecraft has weathered the storm of electrons surrounding Jupiter better than we could have ever imagined," said Nybakken.
Juno was launched in 2011 from the US. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet’s cloud tops—as close as about 3,400 kilometres. During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Early science results from Nasa’s Juno mission portray the largest planet in our solar system as a turbulent world, with an intriguingly complex interior structure, energetic polar aurora, and huge polar cyclones.