NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft got a big speed boost today, when it used Jupiter’s gravity to give it a slingshot towards its final destination of Pluto. It didn’t exactly skim the planet’s surface, but New Horizons got as close as 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) to Jupiter.
Apart from the speed boost, this was an opportunity to do a little science as well. New Horizons took the opportunity to analyze several of Jupiter’s moons, as well as the planet itself as it swept past. During its closest approach, New Horizons as out of contact with Earth, so it had to gather all its scientific data automatically. The spacecraft will make more than 700 science observations of Jupiter during the encounter; 50% of those were taken just on the day of the flyby.
As part of the maneuver, New Horizons gained 14,000 km/hour velocity (9,000 mph) from Jupiter’s gravity, putting it on track to reach Pluto in 2015.
Original Source: New Horizons News Release