NASA’s Juno spacecraft has just made its fifth flyby of Jupiter, and while no data from has been released yet, NASA has treated us to a rather stunning image as a teaser.
The flyby was scheduled to take place this morning at 4.52am EDT (9.52am BST). The spacecraft passes just 4,400 kilometers (2,700 miles) above the cloud tops of the gas giant, traveling at about 208,000 kilometers (129,000 miles) per hour.
“... we are excited to see what new discoveries Juno will reveal,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a statement. "Every time we get near Jupiter’s cloud tops, we learn new insights that help us understand this amazing giant planet."
This was the fourth “science pass” Juno has made of Jupiter, having entered orbit in July 2016, switching on its instruments to study the world. But it’s also been using its camera, JunoCam, to snap images of Jupiter as voted for by the public.
One image was enhanced by citizen scientist Roman Rkachenko to bring out rich details in a storm and clouds on the surface. The image, above and showing the so-called “Dark Spot”, was taken on February 2, 2017, from an altitude of 14,500 kilometers (9,000 milles). The image was rotated by 90 degrees to make it all the more impressive.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Juno, though. A problem with two valves in its main engine has meant it will remain in its current 53-day orbit around Jupiter for the rest of its mission, completing 12 orbits through to July 2018. Originally, the plan was to reduce this to 14 days and conduct 37 orbits through February 2018.
We should still get plenty more amazing images like this, though.