Juno Safely Completes First Of 36 Jupiter Flybys

Space science has had a very remarkable year, not counting the advances made in launching and landing rockets. Just a little over a year ago, New Horizons made history by passing the former planet Pluto. And just last month, the Juno probe reached fame when it finally reached Jupiter. It, too, is now making history has NASA reported a successful and uneventful flyby of the planet. And although it is just the first of 36 flybys scheduled for its mission, it takes the probe closest to the largest and one of the most mysterious family members of our solar system.

Recent space missions have not only been making history but also sometimes rewriting textbooks, challenging many of the long-held assumptions in science, from Mars to Pluto and back to the middle of the solar system. Jupiter's girth has long held puzzles, as well as clues, almost literally clouded by the giant's tempestuous clouds and magnetic fields.

The latter is what made the Juno mission fit for history books. Launching a probe towards Jupiter is one thing. Having it maintain an orbit around the planet and gather scientific all the while weathering an electromagnetic barrage caused both by our own sun and the planet itself, is a whole different level. Yet that is exactly what the Juno probe was able to do and then some.

At 6:44 a.m. on Sunday, Juno approached 2,600 miles (4,200 km) above Jupiter's iconic swirling clouds. It was the closest that the probe will ever get to the planet. At least until it plummets to its death once its mission is over. It was also the first time that the probe had all its scientific instruments running. Fortunately, everything was green.

There are 35 more flybys scheduled until the mission ends on February 2018, but that doesn't mean nothing exciting is going to happen until then. In fact, it's only the tip of the iceberg. It will take weeks to even sift through the entire payload that Juno will send home, which itself will take days to arrive. Some of the first pieces of data, which will also be released soon, will be hi-res photos of the giant planet, the closest we'll ever see of Jupiter's surface.