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NASA’s $1 Billion Juno Mission Starts Unraveling Jupiter’s Secrets With Breathtaking New Images

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The breathtaking images from Juno spacecraft could mean tens of thousands of words that would unravel the secrets of the giant planet.

NASA officials said the unmanned spacecraft took the new images on March 27 as it skimmed Jupiter at 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) with a speed relative to the planet of about 129,000 miles per hour (208,000 kilometers per hour). It was the mission's fifth flyby.

"We are excited to see what new discoveries Juno will reveal," Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, said.

Gazing Through Juno's Eyes

Named after a Roman goddess, from whose eyes her husband, Jupiter, could not hide, Juno is peering near the Jupiter's cloud tops to either confirm or debunk the theories about the planet.

"Every time we get near Jupiter's cloud tops, we learn new insights that help us understand this amazing giant planet," Bolton said.

The instruments, including the six microwave antennas, on board the spacecraft were in top shape during the fifth flyby, picking up pieces of information about the planet's atmosphere, gravity, and electromagnetic fields. Its powerful camera, JunoCam, also took color images of the planet.

Journey Around Jupiter

The spacecraft was launched in August 2011 and started its journey around Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

Powered by the large three solar panels attached to its six-sided body, it is expected to orbit the giant planet for a total of 37 times.

It takes 53 days for the spacecraft to have close encounter such as this one since it has an elliptical orbit around the planet.

Skimming the planet closer requires maneuvering it so that it will only take 14 days to orbit the planet. The plan, however, was shelved by NASA in February after its helium valves had problems.

After nearly a year since it started orbiting Jupiter, Juno has opened a new window for scientists to study the planet's composition, cloud structure, magnetic fields, and its splendid auroras.

NASA said these flybys give Juno the opportunity to see the planet through the haze of clouds "to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere."

Juno's Final Moments

Juno is expected to generate the data pertaining to Jupiter's composition, how it was made, and how it has changed. The mission will further the understanding on the solar system's evolution and the other worlds beyond.

The Juno team expects to complete and publish their study of the five flybys four months from now.

The spacecraft will terminate its 20-month orbit in February 2018 by plunging into the planet it seeks to discover.

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