NASA's Juno spacecraft will celebrate its first birthday circling Jupiter with the first close-up early next week of the gassy planet's Great Red Spot, Phys.org reports. The "spot" is actually an epic, 10,000-mile-wide storm that has likely been swirling above our solar system's biggest planet for centuries. Jupiter's most famous weather phenomenon is 3.5 times the size of Earth, notes the International Business Times. After flying over Jupiter's iconic cloud belt a handful of times over the past year, Juno is set to "dive" into the storm on July 10 at 9:55pm EDT, says Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, per NASA. The purpose is "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," he notes. Juno will hover about 5,600 miles above the maelstrom's crimson clouds.
"Each new orbit brings us closer to the heart of Jupiter's radiation belt," adds NASA's Rick Nybakken, per Phys.org. He adds that so far Juno has tolerated a pounding by electrons "better than we could have ever imagined." With eight instruments and a color JunoCam, the craft's data collection will be boosted by detailed images obtained in May by two powerful telescopes in Hawaii pointed at Jupiter. The Great Red Spot, which has been regularly observed since 1830, has fascinated earthlings ever since and "is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter," says Bolton. Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun, is essentially a giant gas bag composed of substances like hydrogen and helium. After a five-year, 1.8-billion-mile journey, Juno entered the planet's orbit on July 4, 2016. (Jupiter also has a Great Cold Spot.)