The JunoCam optical camera wasn’t originally part of the Juno spacecraft’s science payload. The instrument was added at the last minute for the purpose of taking photos of Jupiter to engage the public’s interest in the mission–and it has done an incredible job of doing just that.
Juno snapped this photograph just after close approach at 2:12 am on March 27, 2017, from approximately 20,000 kilometers away from the planet. The image color and contrast have been enhanced to highlight Jupiter’s spinning storms. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Jason Major
On Monday, March 27, 2017, at 1:52 am Pacific time, the Juno spacecraft completed its fourth science orbit as well as its fifth close flyby of Jupiter since its insertion into orbit on July 4th, 2016.
During this flyby, the spacecraft swooped over Jupiter’s cloud tops at just 4,400 kilometers at perijove, while all eight of its instruments collected data. Data started downlinking back to Earth on March 28th and continues even now.
— Jason Major (@JPMajor) March 29, 2017
Juno’s mission is deceptively simple: Learn what lurks beneath Jupiter’s dramatic clouds, investigate the origin of gas giants, and describe the planet’s vast and powerful magnetic fields. The spacecraft remains in good health despite Jupiter’s high-intensity magnetic field and harsh radiation environment. In February, an engine hiccup caused engineers to abandon earlier plans to tighten the spacecraft’s orbit, making this recent science pass the fourth of just twelve remaining passes before Juno deliberately crashes into Jupiter in February of next year. Juno’s next close approach will be on May 19, 2017.
Juno photographed Jupiter’s Dark Spot during its previous close approach on February 2, 2017, at 5:13 am Pacific from 14,500 kilometers above the clouds. The colors are enhanced. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko