Watch: An Amazing, Mesmerizing Full Rotation of Jupiter

Jupiter as imaged by Michael Phillips on July 25th, 2009... note the impact scar discovered by Anthony Wesley to the lower left.

Jupiter is a happening place in the solar system. While bashful Mars only puts on a good show once every two year opposition period, and inner worlds such as Mercury and Venus yield no surface details to backyard observers at all, the cloud tops of Jupiter display a wealth of changing detail in even modest backyard telescopes.

And this month is a great time to start observing Jupiter, as the largest planet in our solar system just passed opposition on January 5th. Recently, veteran astrophotographer Michael Phillips amazed us here at Universe Today once again with a stunning time-lapse sequence of Jupiter and its moons Ganymede and Io. Now, he’s outdone himself with a new full rotation compilation of the gas giant planet.

The capture is simply mesmerizing to sit and watch. At 9.9 hours, Jupiter has the fastest rotational period of any planet in our solar system. In fact, with Jupiter currently visible low to the east at sunset, it’s possible to follow it through one rotation in the span of a single long January winter night.

We caught up with Michael recently and asked him about this amazing capture. The sequence was actually accomplished over the span of five successive evenings. This made it challenging to stitch together using a sophisticated program known as WINJupos.

“While this is possible on a long winter night when it is darker longer, I typically find it easier to do over multiple nights than one long sleepless night,” Michael told Universe Today. “If you wait too many days between observations, the features will change significantly, and then two nights will not match up clearly. The seams that result from using multiple nights are tricky to stick together. I created multiple non-overlapping seams and tried to blend them out against one another as layers in my image editing software. The result is smoother, but not quite the same as a single observation.”

A 14” f/4.5 Newtonian reflecting telescope was used for the captures. “Similar weather conditions and camera settings help quite a bit to make the multiple nights’ segments match up better,” Michael noted. “Keeping the same settings, using the same location away from my house  in the corner of the yard (to reduce local atmospheric turbulence) night after night gives consistent results after removing the variability of the weather.”

Planetary photography also requires special considerations prior to imaging, such as getting Jupiter high enough in the sky and at specific longitudes to get full coverage in the rotation sequence.

“I try to consider the local weather patterns and atmospheric stability (seeing), but in reality, I pushed myself to get out as much and often as I could,” Michael told Universe Today. “Typically, I try to wait until Jupiter is at the highest in the sky, as the result is looking through less atmosphere and thus more stable conditions. Sometimes, the planets jiggle around and you just want to scream ‘SIT STILL!’ Basically around the time of opposition I go out as often as it’s clear, as those are opportunities that you don’t get back again until next year.”

Jupiter reaches opposition just over once every 13 months, moving roughly one constellation eastward each time. 2013 was an “oppositionless” year for Jupiter, which won’t occur again until 2025. Michael also notes that from his observing location at 35 degrees north latitude, Jupiter currently peaks at an altitude of 77 degrees above the horizon when it transits the local meridian. “I wasn’t going to squander it waiting for perfect conditions!”

In fact, Jupiter is currently in a region in the astronomical constellation of Gemini that will be occupied by the Sun in just over five months time during the June Solstice. Currently at a declination of around 22 degrees 45’ north, Jupiter won’t appear this high in the northern sky near opposition again until 2026.

It’s also amazing to consider the kind of results that backyard observers like Michael Phillips are now routinely accomplishing. It’s an interesting exercise to compare Michael’s capture side-by-side with a sequence captured  by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its 2006 flyby of Jupiter:

Both sequences capture a wealth of detail, including the enormous Great Red Spot, the Northern and Southern Equatorial Belts, and numerous white spots and smaller swirls and eddies in the Jovian atmosphere.

To date, six spacecraft (Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyagers 1 and 2, New Horizons and Cassini) have made flybys of Jupiter, and one, Galileo, orbited the planet until its demise in 2003. Juno is the next in this legacy, and will be inserted into orbit around Jupiter in July 2016.

Now is the time to get out and observe and image Jupiter and its moons, as it moves higher into the sky on successive evenings towards eastern quadrature on April 1st, 2014.

Congrats to Michael Phillips on an amazing sequence!

Stunning Movie Shows What Earth Looks Like to an Incoming Spacecraft

When NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew past Earth in October of this year, it focused some of its cameras on the Earth-Moon system. Immediately after the flyby, images taken by the Junocam were released, but today, NASA released an amazing video taken by the Advanced Stellar Compass (ASC) camera, a low-light camera that is primarily used as a star tracking a navigation tool. Over the course of three days, it captured the orbital ballet-like dance between the Earth and Moon.

“This is profound, and I think our movie does the same thing as “Pale Blue Dot” image from Voyager, except it’s a movie instead of an image,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator, speaking during a press briefing from the American Geophysical Union conference today in San Fransisco. “Like Carl Sagan said, everything we know is on this dot. To me this says, ‘we’re all in this together.’”

The Oct. 9 flyby was a gravity assist, accelerating Juno out of the inner solar system and toward Jupiter’s orbit. The probe is expected to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

The movie begins at 2:00 UTC on Oct. 6, more than four days before Juno’s closest approach, when the spacecraft was approximately 2.1 million miles (3.3 million kilometers) from Earth. Earth’s moon is seen transiting in front of our planet, and then moves out of frame toward the right as Juno enters the space inside the orbit of our natural satellite. As Juno gets closer to Earth, hints of clouds and continents are visible before the planet’s brightness overwhelms the cameras, which were not designed to image so bright an object. The sequence ends as Earth passes out of view, which corresponds to approximately 17:35 UTC Oct. 9 when Juno was at an altitude of about 47,000 miles (76,000 kilometers) above Earth’s surface.

“From a half-million kilometers out, the Moon is dark as charcoal and but Earth way brighter, as a shiny blue dot,” said John Joergensen, who lead the team that designed the star tracking cameras. “It’s amazing to think that all of humanity being scanned in this movie, and to see how small the Moon is relative to Earth.”

The cameras that took the images for the movie are located near the pointed tip of one of the spacecraft’s three solar-array arms. They are part of Juno’s Magnetic Field Investigation (MAG) and are normally used to determine the orientation of the magnetic sensors. These cameras look away from the sunlit side of the solar array, so as the spacecraft approached, the system’s four cameras pointed toward Earth. Earth and the moon came into view when Juno was about 600,000 miles (966,000 kilometers) away — about three times the Earth-moon separation.

During the flyby, timing was everything. Juno was traveling about twice as fast as a typical satellite, and the spacecraft itself was spinning at 2 rpm. To assemble a movie that wouldn’t make viewers dizzy, the star tracker had to capture a frame each time the camera was facing Earth at exactly the right instant. The frames were sent to Earth, where they were processed into video format.

As Juno is a spinning spacecraft, the images were aligned to remove their apparent rotation. The original ASC images are monochrome; faint coloration has been added by converting the measured grayscale values into false colors matching a true color image of Earth.

JPL press release

How People from Earth said “Hi” to a Passing Spacecraft

Um, something in my eye. This wonderful video details a what took place when the Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft swung past Earth on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assist, and amateur radio operators around the world sent a Morse Code saying “HI” to the spacecraft.

“We wanted to know, if this were an interplanetary spacecraft, could they we tell there was intelligent life on Earth?” said Bill Kurth, co-investigator for the Juno Waves Investigation from the University of Iowa.

Watch the video to find out if it worked.

“We obviously haven’t heard anything like this from any other planet,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator, speaking during a press briefing from the American Geophysical Union conference today in San Fransisco.

NASA Halts Work on its New Nuclear Generator for Deep Space Exploration

Another blow was dealt to deep space exploration this past weekend. The announcement comes from Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director. The statement outlines some key changes in NASA’s radioisotope program, and will have implications for the future exploration of the outer solar system.

An Advanced Stirling Converter prototype in the laboratory. (Credit: NASA).
An Advanced Stirling Converter prototype in the laboratory. (Credit: NASA).

We’ve written about the impending plutonium shortage and what it means for the future of spaceflight, as well as the recent restart of plutonium production. NASA is the only space agency that has conducted missions to the outer planets — even the European Space Agency’s Huygens lander had to hitch a ride with Cassini to get to Titan — and plutonium made this exploration possible. Continue reading “NASA Halts Work on its New Nuclear Generator for Deep Space Exploration”

Jupiter Bound Juno snaps Dazzling Gallery of Planet Earth Portraits

Juno Portrait of Earth
This false color composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
See below a gallery of Earth from Juno[/caption]

During a crucial speed boosting slingshot maneuver around Earth on Oct. 9, NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno probe snapped a dazzling gallery of portraits of our Home Planet over the South American coastline and the Atlantic Ocean. See our mosaics of land, sea and swirling clouds above and below, including several shown in false color.

But an unexpected glitch during the do or die swing-by sent the spacecraft into ‘safe mode’ and delayed the transmission of most of the raw imagery and other science observations while mission controllers worked hastily to analyze the problem and successfully restore Juno to full operation on Oct. 12 – but only temporarily!

Because less than 48 hours later, Juno tripped back into safe mode for a second time. Five days later engineers finally recouped Juno and it’s been smooth sailing ever since, the top scientist told Universe Today.

“Juno is now fully operational and on its way to Jupiter,” Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton told me today. Bolton is from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.

“We are completely out of safe mode!”

NASA's Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina,  South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was reconstructed and aligned by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, and false-color blue has been added to the view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA’s Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina, South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was reconstructed and aligned by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, and false-color blue has been added to the view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

With the $1.1 Billion Juno probe completely healthy once again and the nail-biting drama past at last, engineers found the time to send the stored photos and research data back to ground station receivers.

“The science team is busy analyzing data from the Earth flyby,” Bolton informed me.

The amateur image processing team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo has stitched together several portraits from raw images captured as Juno sped over Argentina, South America and the South Atlantic Ocean and within 347 miles (560 kilometers) of the surface. We’ve collected the gallery here for all to enjoy.

Several portraits showing the swirling clouds and land masses of the Earth’s globe have already been kindly featured this week by Alan Boyle at NBC News and at the Daily Mail online.

NASA's Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina,  South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was stitched by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo in this view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA’s Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina, South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was stitched by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo in this view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Raw images from the Junocam camera are collected in strips – like a push broom. So they have to be carefully reconstructed and realigned to match up. But it can’t be perfect because the spacecraft is constantly rotating and its speeding past Earth at over 78,000 mph.

So the perspective of Earth’s surface features seen by Junocam is changing during the imaging.

And that’s what is fascinating – to see the sequential view of Earth’s beautiful surface changing as the spacecraft flew over the coast of South America and the South Atlantic towards Africa – from the dayside to the nightside.

This composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
This composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

It’s rare to get such views since only a few spacecraft have swung by Earth in this manner – for example Galileo and MESSENGER – on their way to distant destinations.

Coincidentally this week, the Cygnus cargo carrier departed the ISS over South America.

Fortunately, the Juno team knew right from the start that the flyby of Earth did accomplish its primary goal of precisely targeting Juno towards Jupiter – to within 2 kilometers of the aim point, despite going into safe mode.

“We are on our way to Jupiter as planned,” Juno Project manager Rick Nybakken, told me in a phone interview soon after the flyby of Earth. Nybakken is from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.

“None of this affected our trajectory or the gravity assist maneuver – which is what the Earth flyby is,” he said.

Juno swoops over Argentina  This reconstructed day side image of Earth is one of the 1st snapshots transmitted back home by NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft during its speed boosting flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. It was taken by the probes Junocam imager and methane filter at 12:06:30 PDT and an exposure time of 3.2 milliseconds. Juno was flying over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. The coastline of Argentina is visible at top right. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer
Juno swoops over Argentina
This reconstructed day side image of Earth is one of the 1st snapshots transmitted back home by NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft during its speed boosting flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. It was taken by the probes Junocam imager and methane filter at 12:06:30 PDT and an exposure time of 3.2 milliseconds. Juno was flying over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. The coastline of Argentina is visible at top right. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer

It also accelerated the ships velocity by 16,330 mph (26,280 km/h) – thereby enabling Juno to be captured into polar orbit about Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

Dayside view of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013.  This mosaic has stitched from raw image data captured by methane near-infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT.  Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Dayside view of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. This mosaic is stitched from raw image data captured by methane near-infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

The safe mode did not impact the spacecraft’s trajectory one smidgeon!

It was likely initiated by an incorrect setting for a fault protection trigger for the spacecraft’s battery when Juno was briefly in an eclipse during the flyby.

Nybakken also said that the probe was “power positive and we have full command ability,” while it was in safe mode.

Safe mode is a designated fault protective state that is preprogrammed into spacecraft software in case something goes amiss. It also aims the craft sunwards thereby enabling the solar arrays to keep the vehicle powered.

False-color composite of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013.  This mosaic is stitched from raw image data captured by methane near-infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT.  Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
False-color composite of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. This mosaic is stitched from raw image data captured by methane near-infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

The Earth flyby maneuver was necessary because the initial Atlas V rocket launch on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL was not powerful enough to place Juno on a direct trajectory flight to Jupiter.

As of today, Juno is more than was 6.7 million miles (10.8 million kilometers) from Earth and 739 million miles (7.95 astronomical units) from Jupiter. It has traveled 1.01 billion miles (1.63 billion kilometers, or 10.9 AU) since launch.

With Juno now on course for our solar system’s largest planet, there won’t be no any new planetary images taken until it arrives at the Jovian system in 2016. Juno will then capture the first ever images of Jupiter’s north and south poles.

We have never seen Jupiter’s poles imaged from the prior space missions, and it’s not possible from Earth.

During a year long mission at Jupiter, Juno will use its nine science instruments to probe deep inside the planet to reveal its origin and evolution.

“Jupiter is the Rosetta Stone of our solar system,” says Bolton. “It is by far the oldest planet, contains more material than all the other planets, asteroids and comets combined and carries deep inside it the story of not only the solar system but of us. Juno is going there as our emissary — to interpret what Jupiter has to say.”

Based on what we’ve seen so far, Junocam is sure to provide spectacular views of the gas giants poles and cloud tops.

Only 982 days to go !

Ken Kremer

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL

Jupiter-bound Juno Probe Back in Full Operation After Earth Flyby Glitch

Juno swoops over Argentina
This reconstructed day side image of Earth is one of the 1st snapshots transmitted back home by NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft during its speed boosting flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. It was taken by the probes Junocam imager and methane filter at 12:06:30 PDT and an exposure time of 3.2 milliseconds. Juno was flying over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. The coastline of Argentina is visible at top right. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer
See another cool Junocam image below[/caption]

Engineers have deftly managed to successfully restore NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno probe back to full operation following an unexpected glitch that placed the ship into ‘safe mode’ during the speed boosting swing-by of Earth on Wednesday, Oct. 9 – the mission’s top scientist told Universe Today late Friday.

Juno came out of safe mode today!” Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton happily told me Friday evening. Bolton is from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.

The solar powered Juno spacecraft conducted a crucial slingshot maneuver by Earth on Wednesday that accelerated its velocity by 16,330 mph (26,280 km/h) thereby enabling it to be captured into polar orbit about Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

Dayside view of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013.  This mosaic has been reconstructed from raw image data captured by methane infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT.  Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Dayside view of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. This mosaic has been reconstructed from raw image data captured by methane infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

“The safe mode did not impact the spacecraft’s trajectory one smidgeon!”

Juno exited safe mode at 5:12 p.m. ET Friday, according to a statement from the Southwest Research Institute. Safe mode is a designated fault protective state that is preprogrammed into spacecraft software in case something goes amiss.

Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL

“The spacecraft is currently operating nominally and all systems are fully functional,” said the SwRI statement.

Although the Earth flyby did accomplish its primary goal of precisely targeting Juno towards Jupiter – within 2 kilometers of the aim point ! – the ship also suffered an unexplained anomaly that placed Juno into ‘safe mode’ at some point during the swoop past Earth.

“After Juno passed the period of Earth flyby closest approach at 12:21 PM PST [3:21 PM EDT] and we established communications 25 minutes later, we were in safe mode,” Juno Project manager Rick Nybakken, told me in a phone interview soon after Wednesday’s flyby of Earth. Nybakken is from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL

Nybakken also said that the probe was “power positive and we have full command ability.”

So the mission operations teams at JPL and prime contractor Lockheed Martin were optimistic about resolving the safe mode issue right from the outset.

“The spacecraft acted as expected during the transition into and while in safe mode,” acording to SwRI.

During the flyby, the science team also planned to observe Earth using most of Juno’s nine science instruments since the slingshot also serves as an important dress rehearsal and key test of the spacecraft’s instruments, systems and flight operations teams.

“The Juno science team is continuing to analyze data acquired by the spacecraft’s science instruments during the flyby. Most data and images were downlinked prior to the safe mode event.”

Juno’s closest approach took place over the ocean just off the tip of South Africa at about 561 kilometers (349 miles).

Juno launched atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 on a journey to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.

The $1.1 Billion Juno probe is continuing on its 2.8 Billion kilometer (1.7 Billion mile) outbound trek to the Jovian system.

During a one year long science mission – entailing 33 orbits lasting 11 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s origin and evolution.

“Jupiter is the Rosetta Stone of our solar system,” says Bolton. “It is by far the oldest planet, contains more material than all the other planets, asteroids and comets combined and carries deep inside it the story of not only the solar system but of us. Juno is going there as our emissary — to interpret what Jupiter has to say.”

Read more about Juno’s flyby in my articles – at NBC News; here, and Universe Today; here, here and here

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Returns 1st Flyby images of Earth while Sailing On to Jupiter

Following the speed boosting slingshot of Earth on Wednesday, Oct. 9, that sent NASA’s Juno orbiter hurtling towards Jupiter, the probe has successfully transmitted back data and the very first flyby images despite unexpectedly going into ‘safe mode’ during the critical maneuver.

Juno is transmitting telemetry today,” spokesman Guy Webster, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), told me in a phone interview late today (Oct. 10), as Juno continues sailing on its 2.8 Billion kilometer (1.7 Billion mile) outbound trek to the Jovian system.

The new images of Earth captured by the Junocam imager serves as tangible proof that Juno is communicating.

“Juno is still in safe mode today (Oct. 10),” Webster told Universe Today.

“Teams at mission control at JPL and Lockheed Martin are actively working to bring Juno out of safe mode. And that could still require a few days,” Webster explained.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Juno.

The initial raw images of Earth snapped by the craft’s Junocam imager were received by ground stations late today.

See above a day light image mosaic which I reconstructed and realigned based on the original raw image (see below) taken with the camera’s methane filter on Oct. 9 at 12:06:30 PDT (3:06:30 PM EST). Juno was to be flying over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean.

This day side raw image of Earth is one of the 1st snapshots transmitted back home today by NASA’s Juno spacecraft during its speed boosting flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. It was taken by the probes Junocam imager and methane filter at 12:06:30 PDT and an exposure time of 3.2 ms. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS
This day side raw image of Earth is one of the 1st snapshots transmitted back home today by NASA’s Juno spacecraft during its speed boosting flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. It was taken by the probes Junocam imager and methane filter at 12:06:30 PDT and an exposure time of 3.2 milliseconds. Juno was due to be flying over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS

Juno performed a crucial swingby of Earth on Wednesday that accelerated the probe by 16330 MPH to enable it to arrive in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

However the gravity assist maneuver did not go entirely as planned.

Shortly after Wednesday’s flyby, Juno Project manager Rick Nybakken, of JPL, told me in a phone interview that Juno had entered safe mode but that the probe was “power positive and we have full command ability.”

“After Juno passed the period of Earth flyby closest approach at 12:21 PM PST [3:21 PM EDT] and we established communications 25 minutes later, we were in safe mode,” Nybakken explained.

The safe mode was triggered while Juno was in an eclipse mode, the only eclipse it will experience during its entire mission.

The Earth flyby did accomplish its objective by placing the $1.1 Billion Juno spacecraft exactly on course for Jupiter as intended.

“We are on our way to Jupiter as planned!”

“None of this affected our trajectory or the gravity assist maneuver – which is what the Earth flyby is,” Nybakken stated.

Juno’s closest approach was over South Africa at about 561 kilometers (349 miles).

Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL

During the flyby, the science team also planned to observe Earth using most of Juno’s nine science instruments since the slingshot also serves as a key test of the spacecraft systems and the flight operations teams.

Juno also was to capture an unprecedented new movie of the Earth/Moon system.

Many more images were snapped and should be transmitted in coming days that eventually will show a beautiful view of the Earth and Moon from space.

“During the earth flyby we have most of our instruments on and will obtain a unique movie of the Earth Moon system on our approach, Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton told me. Bolton is from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.

“We will also calibrate instuments and measure earth’s magnetosphere, obtain closeup images of the Earth and the Moon in UV [ultraviolet] and IR [infrared],” Bolton explained to Universe Today.

Juno is approaching the Earth from deep space, from the sunlit side.

“Juno will take never-before-seen images of the Earth-moon system, giving us a chance to see what we look like from Mars or Jupiter’” says Bolton.

Here is a description of Junocam from the developer – Malin Space Science Systems

“Like previous MSSS cameras (e.g., Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Mars Color Imager) Junocam is a “pushframe” imager. The detector has multiple filter strips, each with a different bandpass, bonded directly to its photoactive surface. Each strip extends the entire width of the detector, but only a fraction of its height; Junocam’s filter strips are 1600 pixels wide and about 155 rows high. The filter strips are scanned across the target by spacecraft rotation. At the nominal spin rate of 2 RPM, frames are acquired about every 400 milliseconds. Junocam has four filters: three visible (red/green/blue) and a narrowband “methane” filter centered at about 890 nm.”

Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno launched atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 on a journey to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.

During a one year long science mission – entailing 33 orbits lasting 11 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s origin and evolution.

NBC News has also featured this Juno story – here

Read more about Juno’s flyby in my articles – here and here

Stay tuned here for continuing Juno, LADEE, MAVEN and more up-to-date NASA news.

Ken Kremer

Amateur Images Show Juno’s ‘Slingshot’ Around Earth Was a Success

With the government shutdown, news out of NASA is sometimes sparse. But thankfully amateur astronomers can fill in some of the holes! While Juno’s project manager Rick Nybakken has confirmed that the spacecraft successfully completed its slingshot flyby of Earth yesterday, images taken by amateur astronomers around the world also conclusively confirm that Juno is now “bang on target!” tweeted Nick Howes of the Remanzacco Observatory team. This image from Howes, Ernesto Guido and Martino Nicolini shows the path of Juno across the sky, as seen from a remote telescope in Spain. “The spacecraft is trailed in the image due to its fast speed,” the team wrote on their website, and extrapolations of Juno’s orbit shows it is heading straight for Jupiter.

You can see a gallery of images of Juno’s flyby taken by amateurs on this SpaceWeather.com page.

Meanwhile, there are some concerns about the spacecraft going into safe mode immediately after the flyby. Our previous article by Ken Kremer reported that the mission teams are assessing the situation, and that the spacecraft is “power positive.”

One idea of why the spacecraft went into safe mode is that the battery was being depleted faster than anticipated, but the team is still working to confirm the reason.

Closest approach was at 12:21 PM PST (19:21 UTC, 3:21 PM EDT).

For more information about the flyby, check out this new video from Bill Nye the Science Guy — who has a new video series called “Why With Nye.”

Juno's flyby path, via Heaven's Above.
Juno’s flyby path, via Heaven’s Above.

NASA’s Juno probe Gets Gravity Speed Boost during Earth Flyby But Enters ‘Safe Mode’

Developing story – NASA’s Juno-bound Jupiter orbiter successfully blazed past Earth this afternoon (Oct. 9) and gained its huge and critical gravity assisted speed boost that’s absolutely essential to reach the Jovian system in 2016.

However, Juno’s project manager Rick Nybakken told me moments ago that the Juno spacecraft unexpectedly entered ‘safe mode’ during the fly by maneuver and the mission teams are assessing the situation.

But the very good news is “Juno is power positive at this time. And we have full command ability,” said Nybakken in an exclusive phone interview with me.

“After Juno passed the period of Earth flyby closest approach at 12:21 PM PST [3:21 PM EDT] and we established communications 25 minutes later, we were in safe mode,” Nybakken told me. Nybakken is the Juno mission project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.

Furthermore, the Earth flyby did place the $1.1 Billion Juno spacecraft exactly on course for Jupiter as intended.

“We are on our way to Jupiter as planned!”

“None of this affected our trajectory or the gravity assist maneuver – which is what the Earth flyby is.”

Juno’s closest approach was over South Africa at about 500 kilometers (350 miles).

“Juno hit the target corridor within 2 km of the aim point,” Nybakken elaborated to Universe Today.

Juno needs the 16,330 mph velocity boost from the Earth swingby because the Atlas V launcher was not powerful enough to hurtle the 8000 pound (3267 kg) craft fast enough on a direct path to Jupiter.

And the team is in full radio contact with the probe. Safe mode is a designated protective state.

“Prior to the eclipse, which was a few minutes earlier than closest approach, the spacecraft was ‘nominal’. When we came out of the eclipse Juno was in safe mode,” Nybakken stated.

“We are going through safe mode diagnostics steps right now.”

“We have established full uplink and downlink. And we have full command ability of the spacecraft.”

First JunoCam image of the day! Taken at 11:07 UTC when Juno was 206,000 Kilometers from the Moon.
First JunoCam image of the day! Taken at 11:07 UTC when Juno was 206,000 Kilometers from the Moon.

Speed boosting slingshots have been used on numerous planetary missions in the past

The spacecraft’s power situation and health is as good as can be expected.

“Juno is power positive at this time and sun pointed and stable. So we are very pleased about that,” Nybakken explained.

I asked if Juno had ever entered ‘safe mode’ before?

“We have never been in safe mode before. We are in a safe, stable state.”

“We are investigating this,” said Nybakken.

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL

Today’s (Oct. 9) Earth flyby is the only time the spacecraft experiences an eclipse period during Juno’s entire five year and 1.7 Billion mile (2.8 Billion km) trek to Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

When it finally arrives at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, Juno will become the first polar orbiting spacecraft at the gas giant.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft blasted off atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 on a journey to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.

Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2013 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The science team had also hoped to use the on board JunoCam imager to make a cool and unprecedented movie of Earth as it approached from the sunlit side – showing the passage as though you were a visitor from outer space.

I had an inkling that something might be amiss this afternoon when no images of Earth appeared on the Juno mission website.

So I asked the status.

“We don’t know yet if any images of Earth were collected. We hope to know soon.”

Juno flew past the Moon before the gravity assist slingshot with Earth. And it did manage to successfully capture several lunar images. See the images herein.

Read more about Juno in my flyby preview story – here.

Note: Due to the continuing chaos resulting from the US government partial shutdown caused by gridlocked politico’s in Washington DC, NASA public affairs remains shut down and is issuing no official announcements on virtually anything related to NASA! This pertains to Juno’s flyby, LADEE’s lunar arrival on Oct. 6, MAVEN’s upcoming launch in November, Cygnus at the ISS, and more!

Stay tuned here for continuing Juno, LADEE, MAVEN and more up-to-date NASA news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL
NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL

Juno Careening to Earth for Critical Flyby Boost and Cool Movie Making on Oct. 9 – Watch SLOOH Live

Trajectory Map of Juno’s Earth Flyby on Oct. 9, 2013
The Earth gravity assist is required to accelerate Juno’s arrival at Jupiter on July 4, 2016 and will capture an unprecedented movie of the Earth/Moon system. Credit: NASA/JPL
Details on how to watch via Slooh – see below [/caption]

NASA’s solar powered Jupiter-bound Juno orbiter is careening towards Earth for an absolutely critical gravity assisted fly by speed boost while capturing an unprecedented movie view of the Earth/Moon system – on its ultimate quest to unveiling Jupiter’s genesis!

“Juno will flyby Earth on October 9 to get a gravity boost and increase its speed in orbit around the Sun so that it can reach Jupiter on July 4, 2016,” Juno chief scientist Dr. Scott Bolton told Universe Today in an exclusive new Juno mission update – as the clock is ticking to zero hour. “The closest approach is over South Africa.”

All this ‘high frontier’ action comes amidst the utterly chaotic US government partial shutdown, that threatened the launch of the MAVEN Mars orbiter, has halted activity on many other NASA projects and stopped public announcements of the safe arrival of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Oct. 6, Juno’s flyby and virtually everything else related to NASA!

Bolton confirmed that the shutdown fortunately hasn’t altered or killed Juno’s flyby objectives. And ops teams at prime contractor Lockheed Martin have rehearsed and all set.

And some more good news is that Slooh will track the Juno Earth Flyby “LIVE” – for those hoping to follow along. Complete details below!

“The shutdown hasn’t affected our operations or plans, Bolton told me. Bolton is Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.

“Juno is 100% healthy.”

“But NASA is unable to participate in our public affairs and press activities,” Bolton elaborated.

NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL
NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL

97% of NASA’s employees are furloughed – including public affairs – due to the legal requirements of the shutdown!

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno will also capture an unprecedented new movie of the Earth/Moon system.

A full up science investigation of our Home Planet by Juno is planned, that will also serve as a key test of the spacecraft and its bevy of state of the art instruments.

“During the earth flyby we have most of our instruments on and will obtain a unique movie of the Earth Moon system on our approach.

“We will also calibrate instuments and measure earth’s magnetosphere, obtain closeup images of the Earth and the Moon in UV [ultraviolet] and IR [infrared],” Bolton explained to Universe Today.

The flyby will accelerate the spacecraft’s velocity by 16,330 mph.

Where is the best view of Juno’s flyby, I asked?

“The closest approach is over South Africa and is about 500 kilometers [350 miles],” Bolton replied.

The time of closest approach is 3:21 p.m. EDT (12:21 PDT / 19:21 UTC) on Oct. 9, 2013

Watch this mission produced video about Juno and the Earth flyby:

Video caption: On Oct. 9, 2013, NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft is making a quick pass to get a gravity boost from the mother planet. Dr. Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute® is the Juno mission principal investigator, leading an international science team seeking to answer some fundamental questions about the gas giant and, in turn, about the processes that led to formation of our solar system.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft blasted off atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 to begin a 2.8 billion kilometer science trek to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.

Juno is on a 5 year and 1.7 Billion mile (2.8 Billion km) trek to the largest planet in our solar system. When it arrives at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, Juno will become the first polar orbiting spacecraft at the gas giant.

Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL

During a one year science mission – entailing 33 orbits lasting 11 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s genesis and evolution.

The goal is to find out more about the planets origins, interior structure and atmosphere, observe the aurora, map the intense magnetic field and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core

Why does Juno need a speed boost from Earth?

“A direct mission to Jupiter would have required about 50 percent more fuel than we loaded,” said Tim Gasparrini, Juno program manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in a statement.

“Had we not chosen to do the flyby, the mission would have required a bigger launch vehicle, a larger spacecraft and would have been more expensive.”

Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Viewers near Cape Town, South Africa will have the best opportunity to view the spacecraft traveling across the sky.

Juno itself will most likely not be visible to the unaided eye, but binoculars or a small telescope with a wide field should provide an opportunity to view, according to a Slooh statement.

Slooh will track Juno live on October 9th, 2013.

Check here for international starting times: http://goo.gl/7ducFs – and for the Slooh broadcast hosted by Paul Cox.

Viewers can view the event live on Slooh.com using their computer or mobile device, or by downloading the free Slooh iPad app in the iTunes store. Questions can be asked during the broadcast via Twitter by using the hashtag #nasajuno -says Slooh.

Amidst the government shutdown, Juno prime contractor Lockheed Martin is working diligently to ensure the mission success.

Because there are NO 2nd chances!

“The team is 100 percent focused on executing the Earth flyby successfully,” said Gasparrini.

“We’ve spent a lot of time looking at possible off-nominal conditions. In the presence of a fault, the spacecraft will stay healthy and will perform as planned.”

Stay tuned here for continuing Juno, LADEE, MAVEN and more up-to-date NASA news.

And be sure to check back here for my post-flyby update.

What’s not at all clear is whether Juno will detect any signs of ‘intelligent life’ in Washington D.C.!

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Juno, LADEE, MAVEN, Curiosity, Mars rovers, Cygnus, Antares, SpaceX, Orion, the Gov’t shutdown and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 8: “NASA’s Historic LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”& “Curiosity, MAVEN, Juno and Orion updates”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM