NASA’s Juno spacecraft is exploring our solar system’s biggest planet, and has sent back incredible images of Jupiter’s poles.
The monstrous cyclones, colossal swirling storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant and a gigantic magnetic field that may indicate it was generated closer to the planet’s surface than previously thought are just some of the discoveries made from the data accumulated by Juno.
Juno launched on 5 August 2011 and has been orbiting Jupiter since 4 July 2016. The spacecraft gets within a few thousand kilometres of the planet’s cloud tops as it orbits around Jupiter’s poles once every 53 days.
Juno is in a polar orbit around Jupiter and has made five close passes over the planet for science collection, the most recent being last week. The next orbit will be 11 July 2017, with scientists targeting the Great Red Spot – the area where an anticyclonic storm persists.
The spacecraft is equipped with nine scientific instruments, including sensors that can measure gravity probe deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere and test the planet’s magnetic fields. The cameras capture the planet across a range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The download of the six megabytes of data collected during the transit can take 1.5 days.
The science is great and fascinating. But let’s be honest: We’re here for the pictures. Juno is delivering portraits of unprecedented beauty that truly showcases the largest planet in our solar system. In the image below the JunoCam captures 8851.39 km above Jupiter the multiple atmospheric conditions of the planet. Waves of clouds made out of ammonia make up the weather patterns you see.
Juno peering beneath the clouds is providing the best up-close view of Jupiter. This enhanced colour view of Jupiter’s southern hemisphere appear in a counterclockwise rotating storm.
Juno is moving so fast during these encounters that it takes only two hours to get from the north pole to the south pole. Here’s Juno’s look at Jupiter’s south pole from 51 499 km away. The colossal polar cyclones is an indication of the planet’s storm system.
Scientists are hoping a close-up investigation of Jupiter’s surface can reveal some history of the origin of our solar system.
Images credit: NASA