Ride along with Juno past Ganymede and Jupiter

Ride along with Juno

The Juno spacecraft made its most recent flyby of the giant planet Jupiter on June 8, 2021. Shortly before its closest point to Jupiter – the 34th of the mission, or perijove 34 – Juno flew closer to Jupiter’s large moon Ganymede than any spacecraft has in more than two decades. On July 14, NASA released the beautiful video above. It lets you ride along with the Juno spacecraft on this most recent sweep past Ganymede and Jupiter. The video is gorgeous and evocative. Juno’s principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio said in a statement:

The animation shows just how beautiful deep space exploration can be. It’s a way for people to imagine exploring our solar system firsthand by seeing what it would be like to be orbiting Jupiter and flying past one of its icy moons.

The images to make this time-lapse animation came from JunoCam, the visible-light camera/telescope aboard the Juno spacecraft. NASA explained:

The 3:30-minute-long animation begins with Juno approaching Ganymede. It passed within 645 miles (1,038 km) of Ganymede’s surface at a relative velocity of 41,600 mph (67,000 kph). The imagery shows several of the moon’s dark and light regions. Darker regions are believed to result from ice sublimating into the surrounding vacuum, leaving behind darkened residue. The imagery also shows the crater Tros, which is among the largest and brightest crater scars on Ganymede.

It takes just 14 hours, 50 minutes for Juno to travel the 735,000 miles (1.18 million km) between Ganymede and Jupiter. The viewer is transported to within just 2,100 miles (3,400 km) above Jupiter’s spectacular cloud tops. By that point, Jupiter’s powerful gravity has accelerated the spacecraft to almost 130,000 mph (210,000 kph) relative to the planet.

Among the Jovian atmospheric features that can be seen are the circumpolar cyclones at the north pole and five of the gas giant’s string of pearls. These are eight massive storms rotating counterclockwise in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. They appear as white ovals.

Using information that Juno has learned from studying Jupiter’s atmosphere, the animation team simulated lightning one might see as we pass over Jupiter’s giant thunderstorms.

Planet Jupiter seen close up, with a string of 5 white ovals visible on its surface amid parallel swirly bands.
View larger. | JunCam image of Jupiter during the June 8, 2021, flyby (perijove 34). We see the white ovals known as Jupiter’s “string of pearls.” They are massive counterclockwise-rotating storms in the atmosphere of the giant planet’s southern hemisphere. Since 1986, they’ve varied in number from 6 to 9. There are currently 8 white ovals on Jupiter, of which 5 are seen here. Image via SWRI.

How they made the video

Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt used composite images of Ganymede and Jupiter to give us the camera’s point of view. For both Ganymede and Jupiter, NASA said:

JunoCam images were orthographically projected onto a digital sphere and used to create the flyby animation. Synthetic frames were added to provide views of approach and departure for both Ganymede and Jupiter.

Juno mission extended to 2025

NASA said that, as planned, Jupiter’s gravitational pull has now affected Juno’s orbit. The craft has been in a highly elliptical polar orbit of 53 days since 2016. In other words, it has been passing close to the giant planet only that often. Now Jupiter’s strong gravity has reduced Juno’s orbit to 43 days.

The Juno mission was originally scheduled to end in July 2021. But in January of this year, NASA extended the mission. Juno will now continue exploring Jupiter through September 2025, or until the spacecraft’s end of life. NASA said on January 13, 2021:

This expansion tasks Juno with becoming an explorer of the full Jovian system – Jupiter and its rings and moons – with multiple rendezvous planned for three of Jupiter’s most intriguing Galilean moons: Ganymede, Europa, and Io.

The next Juno flyby of Jupiter, the 35th of the mission, is scheduled for a few days from now, July 21, 2021.

Ride along with Juno: Animation showing the looping orbit of Juno around Jupiter.
The purple loops represent the Juno spacecraft’s orbit. Jupiter is the green dot. Juno follows a highly elliptical, polar orbit around Jupiter, designed to minimize its exposure to Jupiter’s radiation belts. Each orbit is slightly adjusted so the craft will fly over a different face of Jupiter when closest. Thus Juno has studied Jupiter’s entire surface over its 37 planned orbits between 2016 and July 2021. Image via Phoenix7777/ Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom line: A beautiful video showing the most recent flyby of the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter. In the course of this flyby, Juno came closer to Jupiter’s large moon Ganymede than any spacecraft has in two decades.


July 18, 2021

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