fter its July 4 arrival to the gas giant, NASA’s Juno probe is now preparing for the Aug. 27 close encounter, which should yield the sharpest images of planet Jupiter to date.
As of July 31, the spacecraft was located about 5 million miles from Jupiter, which is the farthest point in the probe’s current orbit around the giant planet. Researchers explained that from that point on the planet’s immense gravitational pull will pull the probe closer and enable it to get within 2,600 miles of the massive planet’s surface towards its August 27 mission target.
Juno currently needs 53 days to complete an orbit around Jupiter.
During the July 4 arrival, the probe’s JunoCam and other optic instruments were switched off to prevent them from getting damage during the risky engine burn. Yet, the tools will be fully operational for the close encounter at the end of the month.
Mission’s project manager Rick Nybakken reported from the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that the craft was in “an excellent state of health.”
The probe was launched nearly five years ago in a bid to map the solar system’s largest planet’s magnetic and gravitational fields. Juno is also expected to learn more about the gas giant’s structure and atmosphere among others.
Mission team members explained that the science gathered by Juno could help them better understand Jupiter’s history and, why not, gain a deeper insight into the solar system’s creation.
The probe traveled about 1.8 billion miles until it finally reached Jupiter, but it needed just 35 minutes of engine burn to insert itself in the original orbit. Researchers noted that the probe will complete another 53-day orbit after the August encounter.
In October, the craft will be instructed to do another orbit-insertion burn to place itself onto a 2-week orbit. However, the Aug. 27 approach won’t mark the start of the science mission, NASA mission investigators said.
The images that will be taken later this month are designed to accustom the public more with the mysterious gas planet. The real science will be performed later. But by the end of the mission, the probe will have completed over 30 orbits and collect invaluable science data.
The mission is slated to end Feb. 2018, when the spacecraft will take a fatal plunge into the planet’s thick cloud cover.
Today the first science experiments begin for Juno, though considerably mitigated until a new corrective burn. She's been approaching the planet for weeks, and will eventually graze by at a mere 4200km.