This Friday (December 21, 2018) NASA’s Juno spacecraft will be hurtling 3,140 miles (5,053 km) above Jupiter’s cloud tops at 128,802 miles per hour (207,287 km per hour). This will be Juno’s 16th science pass of the gas giant and will mark the solar-powered spacecraft’s halfway point in data collection during its prime mission.
Juno is in a highly-elliptical 53-day orbit around Jupiter. Each orbit includes a close passage over the planet’s cloud deck, where it flies a ground track that extends from Jupiter’s north pole to its south pole.
Jack Connerney is Juno deputy principal investigator from the Space Research Corporation in Annapolis, Maryland. He said in a statement:
With our 16th science flyby, we will have complete global coverage of Jupiter, albeit at coarse resolution, with polar passes separated by 22.5 degrees of longitude.
Over the second half of our prime mission – science flybys 17 through 32 – we will split the difference, flying exactly halfway between each previous orbit. This will provide coverage of the planet every 11.25 degrees of longitude, providing a more detailed picture of what makes the whole of Jupiter tick.
Launched on August 5, 2011, Juno entered orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Its science collection began in earnest on the August 27, 2016, flyby. During these flybys, Juno’s science instruments probe beneath the planet’s obscuring cloud cover and study Jupiter’s auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, interior structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
Here are a few of the great images captured by the spacecraft’s Junocam imager.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as an EarthSky.org Editor, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She and her husband live in Tennessee, where they enjoy guitar playing and singing. They have 2 grown sons.
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