Even though most of the scientists at NASA have been furloughed by the government shutdown, one of their pet projects goes on.  The Juno spacecraft was launched two years ago atop a Saturn 5 rocket, which gave it enough power to put it in a proper trajectory for yesterday’s earth flyby.

“It’s our opportunity to visit one of the gas-giant planets in the solar system,” Dr. David Alexander, Director of Rice Space Institute told KTRH News.  “It’s our opportunity to really look at Jupiter, both on the outside, where its magnetic field is very strong, and also learn something about its interior, which has a lot of ramifications for our understanding of our solar system and perhaps planetary systems around other stars.”

Yesterday Juno came within 347 miles of earth at its closest point as it used earth’s gravity to slingshot around our planet for added power to make the trip to the farthest reaches of the solar system.

“Jupiter is a very important planet for the earth to have,” explains Dr. Alexander.  “Because it’s not clear that we would have a stable solar system were it not for having an object as massive as Jupiter somewhere within it.”