NASA’s Juno spacecraft will peer into Jupiter’s planet-sized storm tonight
After more than a year to Jupiter, Juno’s spacecraft is about to fly over the planet’s most iconic landmark:
The great red stain. This is a giant double storm that the Earth has been crafted on Jupiter for hundreds of years. Now, Juno will be the closest to this extraterrestrial cyclone.
The Great Red Spot is the most recognizable part of Jupiter, but there is still much mystery surrounding this massive storm. It is not known exactly how long there, for example.
Astronomers first noticed a large patch of Jupiter in the 1600s, according to NASA, but we do not know if they actually looked the same.
One or the other, the great red spot has been continuously monitored since the early 1800s – and since then, scientists have tried to understand how the storm.
Discovering the true nature of the storm was difficult because of the structure of Jupiter. The giant planet is covered in clouds of gas that hide what is happening beneath the surface.
Several NASA spacecraft smashed images of the Great Red Spot, such as Voyager probes in 1979 and Galileo in the 1990s, but none could figure out the depth of the storm’s structure.
A representation of NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Image: NASA
This is what makes Juno’s flyby so exciting: the spacecraft, which is inserted into Jupiter’s orbit on July 4 last year, is equipped with instruments specifically designed to control Jupiter clouds.
Already, instruments could Juno tell us much about the internal structure of Jupiter and the planet is a very dynamic and complex world.
Juno takes some time to study Jupiter because its orbit around the planet takes 53 days to complete. Originally, the spacecraft had to maneuver in a shorter two-week orbit, but the plan was thrown out because of a problem with the vehicle’s engine.
Juno is also on an elliptical trajectory around the world – which has the spacecraft near the surface of Jupiter for several hours each orbit. It was only during the next step, called perijove passes when Juno can get most of his data.
Tonight will mark the seventh Journey to Juno and the sixth in which the data are collected. (The data was not collected during the second pass because the vehicle was passed without failure mode before).
The spacecraft will make its closest approach at 21:55 ET, where it will be only 2,200 miles above the surface of the planet’s cloud. Then 11 and a half minutes later, Juno will travel during the Great Red Spot, passing 5,600 miles from the surface of the storm.
The mission team ensures that the eight instruments, including the camera space, will be used, JunoCam. So expect a surprising science and more amazing images of one of the largest storms in the solar system.