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NASA's Juno spacecraft preps For 3rd close flyby of Jupiter

NASA's Juno spacecraft, locked in orbit around Jupiter since July 4, will make its next close flyby of the planet at 12:04 p.m. EST on Sunday, the space agency said on Friday. This would be the solar-powered spacecraft's third close flyby of the gas giant.

The science instruments on board Juno collected data during the first close pass over Jupiter in August, revealing that the planet's magnetic fields and aurora are bigger and more powerful than originally thought but they failed to do so during the second flyby in October, when the spacecraft unexpectedly went into a safe mode.

"This will be the first time we are planning to operate the full Juno capability to investigate Jupiter's interior structure via its gravity field," Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, said in a statement. "We are looking forward to what Jupiter?s gravity may reveal about the gas giant's past and its future."

During its closest approach in the upcoming flyby, the spacecraft would fly just 2,580 miles above Jupiter's cloud tops. Seven of its eight science instruments would be switched on to gather data at that time.

"We have a healthy spacecraft that is performing its mission admirably," Rick Nybakken, project manager for Juno from NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in the statement. "What we do not want to do is add any unnecessary risk, so we are moving forward carefully."