NASA's Juno spacecraft heads to the eye of the storm

Humanity will soon get its closest look at the monstrous cyclone whirling across Jupiter. On Monday, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will fly over the famed Giant Red Spot on the solar system's largest planet. The probe will pass about 5,600 miles above the storm's clouds and use its eight instruments to gather data and take photos of the natural phenomenon, which has likely raged since the 1600s.

"Jupiter's mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter," said Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute.

"This monumental storm has raged on the solar system's biggest planet for centuries," Bolton said. "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."

The spacecraft will pass about 5,600 miles above the Giant Red Spot's clouds. All eight of the spacecraft’s instruments as well as its camera, JunoCam, will be on during the flyby.

The storm is big enough to fit about two or three Earths. Its swirling pattern of colorful gases is often called a "perpetual hurricane." 

NASA’s Juno probe, which stretches as wide as a basketball court, entered orbit around Jupiter one year ago. The $1 billion ship spent almost five years traveling to the giant planet, where it's been studying what lies beneath the swirling clouds.

While peering at Jupiter, Juno has learned about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

The spacecraft's visit to Jupiter will be fleeting, however: In early 2018, due to the intense bombardment of radiation from the planet, Juno will go out in a blaze of glory as it takes a final dive into Jupiter's atmosphere and burns up.

 

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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