NASA’s Juno spacecraft is preparing to dive through Jupiter’s deadly radiation belts for a close-up of its great Red Spot, a vast tempest that has confounded scientists for centuries. The one billion dollar probe has moved to study the planet’s best known, but little understood, feature.
‘This is it!’ NASA said. ‘This will be humanity’s up-close and personal view of the 10 thousand mile-wide storm.’ Juno was launched from Cape Canaveral in 2011 and has spent the last year travelling 71 million miles around Jupiter, a planet whose mass is greater than all the other planets in the Solar System combined. Its magnetic field is 20,000 times stronger than earth, creating dangerous radiation belts. JUNO, its electronics protected by a titanium vault, is flying long orbits to minimise its exposure, skimming the cloud-tops every two weeks for a closer look and then retreating.
Picture of Jupiter Storm
Recently, it will have made a sixth pass – the closest yet – moving directly over the great Red Spot, the storm with winds of up to 425 miles per hour, to peer down from 5,600 miles. All of JUNO’s instruments will be switched on to gather the most comprehensive data ever gleaned.
Scott Bolton, a space physicist at the South West Research Institute, and the lead investigator, said: ‘This monumental storm has raged on the Solar System’s biggest planet for centuries. Now JUNO and her cloud penetrating instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go and help us understand how the giant storm works.’
I hope nothing will go wrong and humanity will begin to understand how a monumental storm keeps on going for centuries at a pace which we have failed to understand so far. Who would have thought that such a gigantic discovery is about to be made and with such a dramatic effect and precision?