Juno Sends First Closeups From Jupiter’s Topside

Jupiter's north polar region is coming into view as NASA's Juno spacecraft approaches the giant planet. This view of Jupiter was taken on August 27, when Juno was 437,000 miles (703,000 kilometers) away. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS
Jupiter’s north polar region is coming into view as NASA’s Juno spacecraft approaches the giant planet. This view of Jupiter was taken on August 27, when Juno was 437,000 miles (703,000 km) away.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Here’s lookin’ down at ya!

NASA’s Juno mission successfully executed the first of 36 orbital flybys of Jupiter this weekend. The time of closest approach with the gas-giant world was 9:44 a.m. Eastern time Saturday (Aug. 27) when Juno passed about 2,600 miles (4,200 km) above Jupiter’s swirling clouds traveling at 130,000 mph (208,000 kph) with respect to the planet. This flyby was the closest Juno will get to Jupiter during its prime mission.

“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 in Pasadena, California.

From Earth and Earth orbit, we forever face toward Jupiter's equator as seen in the photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Juno's orbit takes it up over and down under the poles for a unique perspective not possible from Earth. Credit: NASA/ESA
From Earth and Earth orbit, we forever face toward Jupiter’s equator as seen in the photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Juno’s orbit takes it up over and down under the poles for a unique perspective not possible from Earth. It can also view the planet from off to one side, the reason it appears as a “half-moon” in the top photo. Credit: NASA/ESA

There are 35 more close flybys of Jupiter planned during Juno’s mission, which is scheduled to end in February 2018. The August 27 flyby was the first time Juno had its entire suite of science instruments activated and looking at the giant planet as the spacecraft zoomed past. Juno’s in an orbit no Jupiter probe’s even been in before; any images taken here on out give us a new perspective on the giant world.

“We are getting some intriguing early data returns as we speak,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. But it will take days for all the science data collected during this first flyby to be transmitted to Earth.

While results from the spacecraft’s suite of instruments will be released down the road, a handful of images from Juno’s visible light imager, JunoCam, are expected to be released the next couple of weeks. Those images will include the highest-resolution views of the Jovian atmosphere and the first glimpse of Jupiter’s north and south poles. For now, we’ll sup on this lower-resolution but no less remarkable photo.

While skywatchers stood out at dusk enjoying the lovely conjunction of Jupiter and Venus Saturday, Juno was busy gathering data and imaging the planet up close for the first time.