NASA's Juno spacecraft is making its closest approach yet to Jupiter's Great Red Spot -- a giant storm on the surface of the largest planet in the solar system.
The spacecraft was expected to be at its closest point to the gas planet Monday at 6:55 p.m. PDT -- about 2,200 miles away from Jupiter's cloud tops. When it's directly above the 10,000-mile wide swirling red storm, Juno will be about 5,600 miles away, giving researchers their closest view of Jupiter's iconic feature.
The spacecraft's instruments, including its advanced imager, will be on during the flyover, which should provide some dramatic views. Images from the flyover are expected July 14.
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"Jupiter's mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "This monumental storm has raged on the solar system's biggest planet for centuries.
"Now, Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special."
Scientists have been monitoring the spot since 1830, but it probably has existed for more than 350 years.
The flyover is somewhat of a belated anniversary celebration for the mission team and Juno, which marked one year in orbit above Jupiter on July 4. Launched on its incredible journey in August 2011, Juno has soared as close as 2,100 miles away from Jupiter's cloud tops to provide more information about the mysterious planet's origin, structure and atmosphere.
"The success of science collection at Jupiter is a testament to the dedication, creativity and technical abilities of the NASA-Juno team," said Rick Nybakken, project manager for Juno from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Each new orbit brings us closer to the heart of Jupiter's radiation belt, but so far the spacecraft has weathered the storm of electrons surrounding Jupiter better than we could have ever imagined."