NASA spacecraft flies by Earth en route to Jupiter

Jupiter. Photo / Thinkstock
Jupiter. Photo / Thinkstock

NASA's Jupiter-bound spacecraft will swing by Earth for one last visit before speeding to the outer solar system.

Wednesday's flyby allows the Juno spacecraft to gather the momentum it needs to arrive at Jupiter in 2016. When Juno was launched two years ago, the rocket that boosted it out of Earth's atmosphere was not powerful enough to send it directly to its destination.

Weather permitting, skywatchers in South Africa may be able to spot Juno with binoculars or a small telescope when the spacecraft makes its closest approach to Earth. During the pass, an onboard camera will take pictures of Earth and the moon.

Juno is scheduled to slip into orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. It will study the giant gas planet's cloud cover and interior.

- AP

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