Marking yet another milestone, the Juno spacecraft of NASA completed a third close buzz with Jupiter on Sunday, Dec. 11.
Juno's next close flyby will be on Feb. 2, 2017. Reaching the perijove — the closest point in Jupiter — on Sunday for a third time since Juno's arrival in July led to capturing of data of the interiors and planet's magnetic fields. When Juno hit the perijove, it was at 2,580 miles (4,150 kilometers) above the gas giant's cloud tops.
"This will be the first time we are planning to operate the full Juno capability to investigate Jupiter's interior structure via its gravity field," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from San Antonio's Southwest Research Institute.
"We are looking forward to what Jupiter's gravity may reveal about the gas giant's past and its future."
In this last flyby, the spacecraft's key instruments including JunoCam operated well, and data is being sent to Earth.
The new flyby was noted for grand images of cool cyclones and weird dark splotches taken by the camera JunoCam.
Noting Juno as an ambitious citizen science project of NASA, Candice Hansen of Planetary Science Institute, leading the JunoCam team talked about the significance of images.
"Initially, we thought we'd just carry out [Juno's] imaging experiment as if we were in a fishbowl-that we'd just do everything on the web where everyone can see it," Hansen said.
Juno arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after the launch on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
String Of Pearls
Meanwhile, images taken by the JunoCam imager has shown the magnificent 'string of pearls' of Jupiter. The pearls are actually storms rotating counterclockwise but appearing as white ovals in the gas giant's southern hemisphere.
In the past three decades, the number of white ovals has increased from six to nine with eight white ovals visible now.
During the December flyby, mission officials decided not to collect data with the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument until an update to the spacecraft software is done.
The software patch for JIRAM's operation is expected by February, before the next perijove.
However, the Juno team's plans to modify the spacecraft's orbital period may be executed. The effort to slash, Juno's orbital period from the present 53.4 days to 14 days was delayed after a related maneuver was suspended to study the spacecraft's valves in the fuel pressurization system.
"We have a healthy spacecraft that is performing its mission admirably, and we are able to obtain great science every time we fly by," said Rick Nybakken, project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Before Juno approaches each perijove, there will be a popular vote that decides the features the camera needs to target. After the perijove flyby, the target images captured by JunoCam with red, green, blue, and methane filters are uploaded to the NASA website, which is downloadable for the public.
Study on Jupiter's position in the solar system was an evolutionary process, according to a study. The migration process in the solar system, called as Grand Tack had the gas giant forming an orbit of 3.5 astronomical units, or AU, from the Sun, which is three times the distance between Earth and the Sun.
Grand Tack has been touted as a reliable model for defining the early solar system, driven by formation and migration of massive planets.
"Much of the structure of our solar system is driven by the formation and migration of the giant planets," said Brandon Johnson, a planetary scientist at Brown University who is into impact dynamics.
Jupiter, in his model, munched up the surrounding gas for building a thick atmosphere and changed the solar nebula's distribution of material and drew itself closer to the Sun.
However, the present location of Jupiter near the asteroid belt happened when Saturn was formed. The resulting gravitation pushed both planets away and Jupiter moved to its present-day orbit at 5.2 AU.