Our understanding of Jupiter is about to get a lot deeper, with Juno exploring the giant planet’s atmosphere closer and in more detail than any previous probe.
NASA’s spacecraft has just performed the first and closest of its 36 scheduled flybys of Jupiter. At one point, Juno was only 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) from the planet, moving at the neck-breaking speed of 208,000 kilometers per hour (130,000 mph).
"Early post-flyby telemetry indicates that everything worked as planned and Juno is firing on all cylinders," Juno project manager Rick Nybakken said in a statement.
The probe's primary mission is to understand what makes Jupiter tick, using eight different instruments to peer through the thick clouds. The August 27 flyby was the first time the entire suite of gizmos on the craft have been on at the same time. The instruments will measure Jupiter’s magnetic and gravitational field as well as its atmospheric composition.
"We are getting some intriguing early data returns as we speak," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "It will take days for all the science data collected during the flyby to be downlinked and even more to begin to comprehend what Juno and Jupiter are trying to tell us."
Astronomers have begun to analyze the scientific data, with early results expected in the coming months. If you feel you can’t wait that long, you’re in luck. A NASA spokesperson told IFLScience that the first images from the JunoCam – the visible light camera – will be released on Thursday, September 1.
The images will show the never-before-seen poles of Jupiter and the highest-resolution view of the Jovian atmosphere. "We are in an orbit nobody has ever been in before, and these images give us a whole new perspective on this gas-giant world," said Bolton.
Juno’s primary mission will conclude in February 2018 and, hopefully, by then the probe will have followed in the footsteps of its mythological namesake and revealed what’s going on underneath the clouds of Jupiter!