Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Thursday, May 03, 2007

New Horizon at Jupiter

Io shows its plume. NASA
Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW

On February 28th the New Horizon spacecraft did a close flyby of Jupiter to receive a gravity boost on its way to Pluto. NASA used the opportunity to test the crafts instruments on the giant planet and its moons. The spectacular results have now been released:

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 peek 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 Feb. 28, using the planet’s gravity to trim three years off 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.

“Aside from setting up our 2015 arrival at Pluto, the Jupiter flyby was a stress test of our spacecraft and team, and both passed with very high marks,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, NASA Headquarters, Washington. “We’ll be analyzing this data for months to come; we have collected spectacular scientific products as well as evocative images.”

Images included the first close-up scans of the Little Red Spot, Jupiter’s second-largest storm, which formed when three smaller storms merged over the past decade. The storm, about half the size of Jupiter’s larger Great Red Spot and about 70 percent of Earth’s diameter, began turning red about a year before New Horizons flew past it. Scientists will search for clues about how these systems form and why they change colors in their close observations of materials spinning within and around the nascent storm........

More here.

Next stop Pluto in 2015!