NASA is about to make history by allowing humans to get an up-close look at a 10,000-mile-wide storm on Jupiter.
The agency’s Juno spacecraft is set to fly by Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which scientists have been watching since 1830. The spot is essentially a giant storm that scientists believe could be up to 350 years old, though there’s still plenty to learn when it comes to Jupiter and its space weather.
“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,” Scott Bolton, a principal investigator of Juno at San Antonio’s Southwest Research Institute, said in a release.
July 4 will mark one year since the Juno spacecraft first entered Jupiter’s orbit. The next flyby — another NASA milestone — is slated for the night of Monday, July 10. It’ll be the sixth time scientists have collected data of the Great Red Spot, but this flyby will be the closest one yet.
NASA does know a few things about the spot so far: For one, it’s about twice as wide as Earth (Jupiter is about a thousand times as large as Earth), and it has winds as fast as 400 mph. The storm swirls around a center of “high atmospheric pressure,” NASA says, but “understanding the Great Red Spot is not easy.” The world still isn’t sure why the Great Red Spot has been around for so long, or even why it’s red.
There’s plenty of work to be done before humans can really understand Jupiter. The Juno spacecraft will collect other data, hanging low around Jupiter’s clouds and examining the planet’s auroras, which could help scientists understand Jupiter’s structure, atmosphere, magnetosphere and origins more.