Back in August of 2011, NASA launched a spacecraft called Juno on a mission to study Jupiter. With the vast distance between the Earth and Jupiter, NASA scientists had to devise a way to get the spacecraft up to an incredible rate of speed. To achieve the high velocity required scientists used the gravity of the Earth and the sun to slingshot Juno into space at speed ultimately at around 165,000 mph.
The Juno spacecraft is set to make its Earth flyby today, Wednesday, October 9 at 3:21 PM EDT. The Juno spacecraft has already completed one circuit around the sun and increased its speed from 78,000 mph up to 93,000 mph and then headed back towards Earth to gain even more speed.
Stargazers in South Africa will be able to see Juno cross the nighttime sky with the naked eye. The spacecraft will pass over South Africa at 9:21 PM local time. Astronauts aboard the ISS will also attempt for the first time ever to film a deep space spacecraft approaching the Earth.
Amateur ham radio operators around the world will also be sending a coordinated Morse code message that the spacecraft might be able to detect. The Juno spacecraft is set to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016 at 7:29 PM PDT. The mission of the spacecraft is to learn about the origins of Jupiter, its structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere, and to look for potential planetary core. The spacecraft includes nine instruments that are designed to probe beneath the cloud cover obscuring the surface of the gas giant. NASA delayed a firing of the engine on the spacecraft in September of 2012 due to high fuel system pressure, the firing eventually took place and the spacecraft continued on its mission.