At 9:55 AM (EST) today, the Juno spacecraft flew 5,600 miles above Jupiter’s most popular feature, the Great Red Spot. This is the closest to the massive storm that any spacecraft has flown. Unfortunately, the spacecraft’s antenna was not pointing at Earth, so we will not see the new data for a few more days. However, new pictures should prove spectacular and new data will allow us better understanding of the Great Red Spot’s existence.
Currently, the orbiting schedule has Juno returning to the Great Red Spot every fifty-three days. During each flyby, Juno’s instruments will collect different data than collected during the previous flybys.
The Great Red Spot
The Great Red Spot is a storm 10,000 miles wide. Estimates state that it is as large as three Earth-sized planets. The earliest recorded reports of the feature date to the 17th century CE. Active monitoring of the storm began around 1830 CE. The Great Red Spot has captivated the minds and imaginations of scientists and the public alike. Now that Juno is present at Jupiter, we have the ability to gather scientific facts about the Great Red Spot.
Juno’s overall mission is to collect data about Jupiter’s origins and structure, including the atmosphere and magnetosphere. So it is only natural that the Great Red Spot is a focus of the mission. It is the largest single feature of the planet and it extends high above the planet’s normal cloud cover. Juno has a variety of instruments for collecting information about Jupiter and the Great Red Spot.
A state-of-the-art color camera is taking new photographs, including the first detailed images of the planet’s poles. A microwave radiometer can penetrate the cloud cover and collect data in the atmosphere about the Great Red Spot. A magnetometer is mapping how magnetic fields react in and around the storm. Plasma and energetic particle detectors are measuring various particles and processes in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Another instrument is measuring radio and plasma waves as they travel around the planet and through the storm.
Juno’s Mission Time
Juno has orbited Jupiter for a little over one year (the anniversary was July 4). NASA launched Juno in August 2011. Since arriving at Jupiter in June 2016, Juno has orbited the gas giant for over 71 million miles. The mission’s projected end is February 2018 at which time Juno will descend into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The spacecraft will be destroyed during atmospheric entry, but it will also collect and transmit data to Earth for as long as the instruments remain operational.