Spacecraft skims clouds in close encounter with Jupiter

A spacecraft has skimmed the clouds of Jupiter in a record-breaking close approach to the giant planet.

Juno activated its whole suite of nine instruments as it soared 4,200km above Jupiter’s swirling cloud tops, travelling at 210,000km/h on Saturday.

Nasa tweeted that Juno had successfully completed its closest ever fly-by to the planet, the first of 36, which are scheduled to end in February 2018.

Rick Nybakken, Juno’s project manager at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said: “Early post-fly-by telemetry indicates that everything worked as planned and Juno is firing on all cylinders.”

Mission controllers at the space agency expect to capture stunning images and a wealth of scientific data from the approach, but it will take some days for all the data collected to be downloaded on Earth.

“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, USA.

“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.

“This is our first opportunity to really take a close-up look at the king of our solar system and begin to figure out how he works.”

Nasa hopes to release close-up images from JunoCam, the probe’s panoramic colour camera, during the later part of this week. They should include the first detailed pictures of Jupiter’s north and south poles.

No previous spacecraft has flown so near to Jupiter.

The previous record for a close approach to the planet was set by Nasa’s Pioneer 11 spacecraft, which passed at a distance of 43,000km in 1974. Only one other spacecraft, Galileo, which visited Jupiter and its moons from 1995 to 2003, has orbited the planet.


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