Juno probe to graze Jupiter on Saturday

Closest encounter with gas giant will see craft close to just 4,200km from cloud-tops

This dual view of Jupiter was taken on August 23, when NASA’s Juno spacecraft was 2.8 million miles (4.4 million kilometers) from the gas giant planet on the inbound leg of its initial 53.5-day capture orbit. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS
Jupiter on August 23, 2016, when Juno was 4.4 million km from the gas giant. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Strap in for a bumpy ride, Earthlings: the Juno probe will make its closest approach to Jupiter on Saturday when it comes within just 4,200km of the gas giant's uppermost clouds.

Juno made it to Jupiter in early July but was busy entering orbit and fiddling with its rockets so didn't do much more than shoot some rather nice pictures. It then obeyed the laws of physics by heading out on an elliptical path that saw it travel away from the gas giant for 26 days. On August 1st gravity's tug became irresistible and the craft started heading back towards Jupiter.

Come Saturday at 12:51 UTC the probe will all-but-graze the planet, this time with eyes wide open and all instruments turned up to 11 to take advantage of a route that takes it over the Jovian poles at an altitude of just 4,200km. And yes, you guessed right: that's as close as we've ever come to Jupiter.

NASA says that if all goes well, “the highest resolution imagery of the Jovian atmosphere and the first glimpse of Jupiter's north and south poles, are expected to be released during the later part of next week.”

Mission boffins say Juno is in tip-top shape, as the image at top (or here for readers on mobile devices) taken on August 23 demonstrates. While the photo is lovely, mission boffins are using very cautious language about this close pass because we don't really know what to expect so close to the planet.

Travel well, Juno. The Register wants to write about you more next week and in the months to come after you complete your next, elliptical, orbit before settling in for many 14-day orbits before perishing in a planned plunge come January 2018. ®

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