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NASA is preparing to fly its Juno spacecraft over a huge storm which has been raging on Jupiter for up to 350 years.
The planet’s Great Red Spot is a 10,000-mile wide storm that has been monitored since 1830, but which scientists think actually formed centuries earlier.
Juno will pass 5,600 miles above the storm on Monday, with all eight of the craft’s instruments and its camera, known as ‘Junocam’, in operation during the flyby.
The spacecraft’s principal investigator Scott Bolton, from the Southwest Research Institute, said: “Jupiter’s mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter.
“This monumental storm has raged on the solar system’s biggest planet for centuries. Now, Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special.”
Juno has been in orbit around Jupiter for just over a year and has already covered around 71 million miles.
NASA hopes the latest stage of the mission will help to explain more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
Juno’s project manager Rick Nybakken said: “The success of science collection at Jupiter is a testament to the dedication, creativity and technical abilities of the NASA-Juno team.
“Each new orbit brings us closer to the heart of Jupiter’s radiation belt, but so far the spacecraft has weathered the storm of electrons surrounding Jupiter better than we could have ever imagined.”
Juno, which was launched in 2011, is scheduled to ‘deorbit’ in February 2018. The spacecraft will then be deliberately flown in to Jupiter’s atmosphere, where it will burn up and disintegrate.