NASA said the Juno spacecraft – which, as of today, has been in orbit around the giant planet Jupiter for one year – will fly directly over Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot on July 10, 2017, probing for the Spot’s roots in the depths of the planet’s cloud layers. It’ll be part of Perijove 7, one of Juno’s periodic science flybys over Jupiter in the course of the spacecraft’s highly elliptical orbit. The Red Spot is a 10,000-mile-wide (16,000-km-wide) storm on Jupiter. It’s two to three times the size of our entire planet Earth (about 11 Earths could fit side by side in front of Jupiter itself). Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said:
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. 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.
NASA provided these details:
Perijove (the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter’s center) will be on Monday, July 10, at 6:55 p.m. PDT (9:55 p.m. EDT). At the time of perijove, Juno will be about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) above the planet’s cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno will have covered another 24,713 miles (39,771 km) and will be directly above the coiling crimson cloud tops of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The spacecraft will pass about 5,600 miles (9,000 km) 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 July 4 at 7:30 p.m. PDT (10:30 p.m. EDT), Juno will have logged exactly one year in Jupiter orbit. At the time, the spacecraft will have chalked up about 71 million miles (114.5 million km) in orbit around the giant planet.
Juno launched on August 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its mission is to probe beneath Jupiter’s cloud cover and to study its auroras, with the overall goal of learning more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
Of course, we’re waiting for the images! Expect new Jupiter Red Spot images in the days following July 10.
Bottom line: On July 10, 2017, the Juno spacecraft will make a close sweep past Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. It’ll be probing for the roots of the Red Spot in the depths of Jupiter’s cloud layers.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.