Bye Earth: Nasa spacecraft barrels toward Jupiter
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Nasa's Juno spacecraft whipped around Earth on Wednesday, using our home planet as a gravity slingshot to fling itself toward Jupiter.
Snapping pictures during the swing past Earth, Juno hurtled 560 billion kilometres above the ocean off the coast of South Africa, the point of closest encounter.
Previous missions to the outer solar system have used Earth as a celestial springboard since there's no rocket powerful enough to make a direct flight. The Galileo spacecraft buzzed by Earth twice in the 1990s en route to Jupiter, the solar system's largest planet located 780 million kilometres from the sun.
Launched in 2011, Juno flew beyond the orbit of Mars before looping back toward Earth for a quick visit. Wednesday's flyby boosted Juno's speed from 78,000 mph relative to the sun to 140,000kmh - enough momentum to cruise past the asteroid belt to Jupiter, where it should arrive in 2016.