Pluto mission stops off at Jupiter
NASA flyby makes for pretty pictures.
NASA's New Horizons mission has swung by Jupiter on its way to Pluto, and taken a slew of photos and measurements.
New Horizons launched in January 2006, and should reach Pluto in 2015. The craft has been close enough to Jupiter to make observations of the planet since January, but made its closest pass on 28 February. It skimmed by at a distance of 2.3 million kilometres, using the gravitational pull of Jupiter to boost its trajectory towards the Kuiper belt and Pluto.
New Horizons will be in the proximity of Jupiter until June, allowing ample time to learn more about the hot, giant planet. Its instruments are more advanced than those of any other mission that has skirted Jupiter, including Cassini, which flew by Jupiter on the way to Saturn in 2000. In all, 700 observations of Jupiter were planned for this mission, with more than half of those taking place this week (click here for more images).
As well as stunning visual images, New Horizons is taking infrared and ultraviolet measurements of Jupiter's atmosphere, moons and Little Red Spot.
After the closest flyby today, the craft will be out of touch with the mission scientists until later in the afternoon, at which point the Earth-based controllers will check that all the commands were carried out correctly and collect the latest images.
The next big chance to study Jupiter in any depth will be NASA's Juno mission, set for launch in 2011, and arriving at the planet five years later.