NASA’s Juno spacecraft has delivered the best glimpses of Jupiter ever, and it’s just getting started. In a new blog post, NASA celebrates the halfway point in Juno’s long mission by offering a brief recap of some of the more interesting discoveries the craft has made over the years while offering a glimpse at what the future might hold.
The orbiter, which was launched way back in mid 2011, has now completed 16 flybys of Jupiter, gradually mapping the planet and providing a number of insights into how the planet works. Juno has helped scientists understand more about Jupiter’s thick atmosphere and how deep its massive storms stretch into the planet, but there’s still plenty more to learn.
“With our 16th science flyby, we will have complete global coverage of Jupiter, albeit at coarse resolution, with polar passes separated by 22.5 degrees of longitude,” Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator, said in a statement. “Over the second half of our prime mission — science flybys 17 through 32 — we will split the difference, flying exactly halfway between each previous orbit. This will provide coverage of the planet every 11.25 degrees of longitude, providing a more detailed picture of what makes the whole of Jupiter tick.”
For casual science fans, Juno has been the go-to source for gorgeous images of the gas giant, and the Juno team will continue to provide stunning images over the coming years. These photos, while fun to look at, also provide scientists with information on the evolution of the planet that could be applied to the study of other gas giant exoplanets in the future.
As with most NASA missions, the completion of the original goal — 32 science flybys of Jupiter — doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the end of Juno’s life. Depending on how the spacecraft performs, it may get a new lease on life and extend its stay in orbit.