The first of 36 planned orbital flybys of Jupiter by Juno is in the books. At 6:44 am PT yesterday, NASA’s Juno spacecraft soared just 2,600 miles above the gas giant. The spacecraft was cruising at 130,000 mph relative to Jupiter when it completed its first orbital flyby.
According to NASA, yesterday’s flyby is the closest Juno will get to Jupiter during its primary mission.
And it looks like Juno made the trip unscathed.
“Early post-flyby telemetry indicates that everything worked as planned and Juno is firing on all cylinders.” – Rick Nybakken (project manager for the Juno mission)
For Juno’s three dozen orbits, the closest distance to Jupiter will range between 2,600 miles and 4,900 miles.
Saturday’s flyby was also the first time all of Juno’s instruments were switched on and looking Jupiter’s way.
Scott Bolton, the principal investigator of Juno, says they are receiving the first data right now and calls it “intriguing.” Because of the distances involved and the amount of data collected, it will take several days for all of it to be downlinked back to Earth. It will take even longer for them to figure out what the data is telling them.
While the studies authored from Juno’s data are still a ways off, we should start seeing the first images as early as next week. “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,” says Bolton.
In the meantime, Juno teases us with this image captured yesterday when it was 437,000 miles away.
Remember, the best images will be taken from a distance of fewer than 3,000 miles.
Right now, Juno is still in an orbit that takes 53.5 days to complete. On October 19th, the spacecraft’s main engine will fire one last time (Period Reduction Maneuver burn). A nearly 22-minute burn will shorten the orbital period from 53.5 days to just 14 days.
Once October comes and goes, we should start receiving regular updates from NASA on the Juno mission. Every two weeks, the spacecraft will take incredible up-close images of Jupiter like we’ve never seen before. And soon, we can help select the targets.
In November, the Juno team will open up voting on points of interest for JunoCam to image during its orbits of Jupiter.
New Horizons set the bar for incredible images. We’ll see if Juno can match it soon.