NASA’s Juno spacecraft had a busy weekend, soaring over Jupiter’s swirling cloud tops and emerging with the first up-close images and science observations of the solar system’s largest planet.
Juno’s Saturday encounter with Jupiter was the first of 36 planned orbital flybys during the spacecraft’s 20-month-long mission. It’s also the first close encounter Juno had since it entered the Jovian orbit last July 4.
“Soarin’ over #Jupiter. My 1st up-close look of the gas-giant world was a success!” the probe's account tweeted.
The solar-powered, unmanned probe zoomed more than 4,100 km (2,600 mi) above the clouds at 209,200 kph (130,000 mph).
“Early post-flyby telemetry indicates that everything worked as planned and Juno is firing on all cylinders,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Juno will have more flybys scheduled until February 2018, but Saturday’s encounter marked the first time Juno had its entire suite of nine science instruments activated and looking at the giant planet.
“We are getting some intriguing early data returns as we speak,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute. “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.”