NASA’s Juno spacecraft conducted the first-ever close flyby of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on Monday night, July 10, during its sixth science orbit since its arrival at the Jupiter system a year ago on July 4, 2016.
With all its instruments operational, including JunoCam, the orbiter passed 5,600 miles (9,000 km) directly above the 10,000-mile- (16,000-km-) wide giant storm, which has existed for at least the past 350 years and has been tracked from Earth since 1830.
Sightings of the Great Red Spot were even reported during the 1600s.
The spacecraft flew directly over the Great Red Spot just 11 minutes and 33 seconds after reaching perijove, the closest location to Jupiter’s center in its orbit, at 6:55 PM PDT (9:55 PM EDT).
In that brief time, Juno traveled 24,713 miles (39,771 km).
Although there have been several missions to Jupiter, no spacecraft has flown into the interior of its cloud tops until now.
Juno program scientist Jared Esply emphasized that data collected from this flyby will provide unprecedented detail about the storm and answer questions that have long puzzled astronomers and planetary scientists.
According to Candy Hansen of NASA’s Planetary Science Institute, three images of the Great Red Spot were taken–one of the northern edge, one centered over the storm, and a third one looking from the south, which was captured using a methane filter.
“For generations, people from all over the world and all walks of life have marveled over the Great Red Spot. Now, we are finally going to see what this storm looks like up close and personal,” emphasized Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio.
Hansen said NASA hopes to release the first images and data from the flyby on either Thursday, July 13, or Friday, July 14, due to the high level of interest from both scientists and members of the public.
Juno will not be in a position from which it can communicate with Earth until that time.
The first photos to be sent back will be those taken from greater distances. Closeups may not be returned until the weekend.
Scientists are unclear as to how the Great Red Spot, which has a diameter larger than that of Earth, has lasted for such a long time.
In recent years, it has been shrinking in size.
When the images arrive, they will be posted on https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/processing?source=junocam.