NASA's Juno Spacecraft To Celebrate First Year In Orbit By Flying Over Jupiter's Great Red Spot

On the evening of July 4, 2016, NASA's Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter's orbit, slightly less than five years after the craft was launched. And it would seem that the space agency wants to celebrate this first anniversary in orbit in style, as Juno will be flying directly over Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

According to a new press release from NASA, the Great Red Spot is a 10,000-mile-wide storm that was first spotted in 1830 and believed to have existed for about 350 to 400 years. Its gigantic size makes it more than twice the size of our own planet, and winds are estimated to reach speeds of approximately 270 miles per hour. As Caltech's Cool Cosmos page described it, the Great Red Spot is similar to the hurricanes we experience on Earth, but only much larger in scope.

In one week and one day from now, the Juno spacecraft will begin gathering data from this iconic, distinctive feature, and in a statement, Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton explained the importance of the craft's data-gathering endeavors, and how they could answer many a question about the origins of the long-running giant storm.

"Jupiter's mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter. This monumental storm has raged on the solar system's biggest planet for centuries. Now, Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special."
An image of Jupiter's South Pole from the JunoCam. [Image by John Landino/NASA]

The NASA press release also notes that the flyby over the Great Red Spot marks the Juno spacecraft's sixth science flyby over the gas giant's cloud tops. Juno will reach perijove, which is the term for the point where an orbit is closest to Jupiter's center, on Monday, July 10, at 9:55 p.m EDT. At that point, the craft will be some 2,200 miles above the planet's cloud tops. NASA also notes that Juno will be directly above the Great Red Spot's cloud tops at around 10:08 p.m. EDT, as it passes about 5,600 miles above the giant storm's clouds. Once again, the JunoCam will be turned on during this flyby, with the spacecraft's eight instruments all at work at the same time.

Based on science data from the Juno mission compiled so far, the craft appears to have observed a "turbulent" planet with a complex set of interior features.

NASA's Juno spacecraft would be marking its first year in Jupiter's orbit on July 4, at approximately 10:30 p.m. EDT, NASA added. The space agency estimates that by the time this milestone anniversary hits, the craft would have logged about 71 million miles in orbit around our solar system's largest planet.

[Featured Image by NASA]