NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Completes Flyby Over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Artist’s concept of the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

July 11, 2017 – NASA’s Juno mission completed a close flyby of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot on July 10, during its sixth science orbit. All of Juno’s science instruments and the spacecraft’s JunoCam were operating during the flyby, collecting data that are now being returned to Earth.

Raw images from the spacecraft’s latest flyby will be posted in the coming days.

“For generations, people from all over the world and all walks of life have marveled over the Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we are finally going to see what this storm looks like up close and personal.”

The Great Red Spot is a 10,000-mile-wide (16,000-kilometer-wide) storm that has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking.

Juno reached perijove (the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter’s center) on July 10 at 7:55 p.m. MDT (9:55 p.m. EDT). At the time of perijove, Juno was about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) above the planet’s cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno had covered another 24,713 miles (39,771 kilometers), and was passing directly above the coiling crimson cloud tops of the Great Red Spot. The spacecraft passed about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the clouds of this iconic feature.

On July 4 at 8:30 p.m. MDT (10:30 p.m. EDT), Juno logged exactly one year in Jupiter orbit, marking 71 million miles (114.5 million kilometers) of travel around the giant planet.

Juno launched on August 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers). 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.

Juno’s next close flyby of Jupiter will occur on September 1.

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.