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Juno spacecraft completes successful Great Red Spot flyover


NASA's Juno probe, orbiting Jupiter, gets up close and personal with the solar system’s biggest storm.


A view of Jupiter’s clouds with the Great Red Spot at top right, taken by Voyager 1 in 1979.
A view of Jupiter’s clouds with the Great Red Spot at top right, taken by Voyager 1 in 1979.
NASA, Caltech/JPL

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has just buzzed over the largest storm in the solar system. While Juno has been in orbit around Jupiter for just over a year, today was its chance to get a close look at the Great Red Spot.

The Great Red Spot is perhaps the most famous weather system on any of the planets. The storm, larger than Earth, has raged in Jupiter’s atmosphere for at least the past 150 years, and possibly as long as 400 years. It is an anticyclone built around a core of high atmospheric pressure. Though it has been shrinking in recent years, its longevity suggests it is powered from below by some unknown source of heat.

The data collected by Juno will help scientists understand "how this giant storm works and what makes it so special”, says Scott Bolton, principal investigator of the Juno mission. Better knowledge of the spot's extent and structure should help understand what lies at its root, shrouded by clouds of ammonia.

Juno passed over the Great Red Spot at an altitude of about 9,000 kilometres, with all instruments and cameras focused on the giant storm.

Juno will soon begin to transmit the data it acquired during the pass, but the downlink from Jupiter orbit, received by giant radio dishes here on Earth, is quite slow. At the time of writing Juno is in contact with the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, located in the Mojave Desert, but don’t hold your breath for the close-up views of the Great Red Spot.

The first images are expected to be available to terrestrial viewers like you and me on 14 July.

Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
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