NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has provided new data on the Jupiter system, stunning scientists with never-before-seen perspectives of the giant planet’s atmosphere, rings, moons and magnetosphere. These new views include the closest look yet at the Earth-sized “Little Red Spot” storm churning materials through Jupiter’s cloud tops; detailed images of small satellites herding dust and boulders through Jupiter’s faint rings; and of volcanic eruptions and circular grooves on the planet’s largest moons. New Horizons came to within 1,4 million miles of Jupiter on February 28, 2007, using the planet’s gravity to trim three years from its travel time to Pluto. For several weeks before and after this closest approach, the piano-sized robotic probe trained its seven cameras and sensors on Jupiter and its four largest moons, storing data from nearly 700 observations on its digital recorders and gradually sending that information back to Earth. About 70 percent of the expected 34 gigabits of data has come back so far, radioed to NASA’s largest antennas over more than 600 million miles. This activity confirmed the successful testing of the instruments and operating software the spacecraft will use at Pluto.
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The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons captured another dramatic picture of Jupiter’s moon Io and its volcanic plumes, 19 hours after the spacecraft’s closest approach to Jupiter on February 28, 2007. Io’s dayside is deliberately overexposed to bring out faint details in the plumes and on the moon’s night side. The continuing eruption of the volcano Tvashtar, at the 1 o’clock position, produces an enormous plume roughly 330 kilometers high, which is illuminated both by sunlight and “Jupiter light”.
ESA and NASA are mounting a joint campaign to observe Jupiter over the next few weeks with two different spacecraft. Rosetta will watch the big picture from its current position near Mars, whilst New Horizons will take close-up data as it speeds past the largest planet in our Solar System on its journey to Pluto.
A small spacecraft en route to Pluto flew past Jupiter early on Wednesday, picking up enough speed from the giant planet’s gravity field to shave three years off what would have been a 12-year voyage. New Horizons’ closest approach to Jupiter occurred at 12:43 a.m. ET, when it passed 1.4 million miles from the planet. The studies of Jupiter and its four largest moons began several weeks ago and are scheduled to continue through June.
Pluto-Bound New Horizons Spacecraft Gets a Boost from Jupiter
Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, is about to welcome a robotic visitor. NASA’s New Horizons probe will make its closest pass by the gas giant at about 12:45 a.m. EST Wednesday in a sort of cosmic stopover on its long trek to distant Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. The planetary flyby comes just 13 months after New Horizons’ launch, with the probe hurtling through space at about 75.640 kilometers per hour. At its closest approach, New Horizons is expected to fly within 2.3 million kilometres of Jupiter.
New Horizons is the first probe to visit Jupiter since NASA’s Galileo orbiter plunged into the gas giant’s atmosphere to end its 14-year mission in 2003. The Cassini orbiter, currently circling the planet Saturn, swung past Jupiter in December 2000.
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This image of Jupiter was produced from a 2×2 mosaic of photos. The telescopic camera LORRI on board New Horizons snapped the images during a 3-minute, 35-second span on February 10, 2007, when the spacecraft was 29 million kilometres from Jupiter.
Guess who took this picture of Jupiter? Hubble? Keck? A well equipped amateur here on Earth?
Nope, it was taken by the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The picture was taken from orbit around Mars. The HiRISE camera uses the most powerful telescope ever launched out of Earth’s orbit. Since Mars is much closer to Jupiter than Earth, and since the instrument has no atmosphere to peer through, it is much better than a ground-based observatory. This isn’t a completely natural colour image. Since HiRISE is able to detect longer wavelengths of light – into the infrared – it’s different from what you’ll see with your own eyes.
Although New Horizons’ main target is Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, it will have plenty of opportunities to do some science along the way. The spacecraft is now just a few weeks away from its closest approach to the gas giant Jupiter, where it will capture some images and gather science data but also receive a much needed speed boost. New Horizons will reach Jupiter on February 28, 2007, passing as close as 2,3 million km away from the planet’s centre. The spacecraft is expected to make 700 observations of Jupiter and its moons during the flyby. Jupiter’s gravity will accelerate New Horizons towards Pluto, giving it an additional 14.500 km/h velocity. The stage will then be set for New Horizons to reach Pluto in 2015.
Zooming to Pluto, New Horizons Closes in on Jupiter