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Juno close flyby of Jupiter
An artist’s conception shows the Juno orbiter during a close flyby of Jupiter. (Credit: NASA)

NASA says its Juno orbiter experienced a reboot of its onboard computer late Tuesday, just as it was getting ready to collect data during a close flyby of Jupiter.

As a result, Juno’s instruments were off during the flyby, and the data went uncollected.

“At the time safe mode was entered, the spacecraft was more than 13 hours from its closest approach to Jupiter,” Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said today in a news release. “We were still quite a ways from the planet’s more intense radiation belts and magnetic fields.”

NASA said the spacecraft restarted successfully and is going through flight software diagnostics. Engineers are trying to pinpoint what set off the reboot.

The computer problem was the second glitch affecting the bus-sized spacecraft this month. Last week, mission managers decided to postpone a burn of the spacecraft’s main engine, due to a problem with the performance of a pair of valves that are part of its propulsion system. That burn would have reduced Juno’s orbital period from 53.4 days to 14 days.

Juno’s next close flyby is about 53 days from now, on Dec. 11.

Jupiter's clouds
This image of the sunlit part of Jupiter and its swirling atmosphere was created by citizen scientist Alex Mai using data from Juno’s JunoCam instrument. (Credit: Alex Mai / NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS)

The mission’s science team is continuing to analyze readings from Juno’s first close flyby on Aug. 27. Those readings show that the giant planet’s magnetic fields and aurora are bigger and more powerful than previously thought, NASA said. The August flyby also provided the first opportunity for Juno’s Microwave Radiometer to map the three-dimensional structure of Jupiter’s clouds as far down as 250 miles.

“It is as if we took an onion and began to peel the layers off to see the structure and processes going on below,” principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute said. “We are seeing that those beautiful belts and bands of orange and white we see at Jupiter’s cloud tops extend in some version as far down as our instruments can see, but seem to change with each layer.”

In August, the spacecraft’s JunoCam instrument captured a series of close-ups that were made available to amateur image-processing specialists. “All sorts of people are coming to the JunoCam site and providing their own aesthetic,” said Candy Hansen, JunoCam imaging scientist from the Planetary Science Institute. “We have volunteers from all over the world, and they are doing beautiful work.”

Juno’s primary mission is to map Jupiter’s magnetic field, its clouds and its interior structure. The JunoCam pictures are acquired mostly for public outreach purposes.

Jupiter smiley face
This rendering of Jupiter was tweaked by citizen scientist Randy Ahn to create a false-color yellow smiley face. Jupiter’s half-lit image was copied and flipped to create the full face. (Credit: Randy Ahn / NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS)
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