Juno Probe Snaps Dramatic Up-Close Views of Planet
Jupiter’s cloud bands extend hundreds kilometers into atmosphere
New photos by NASA’s Juno spacecraft capture the solar system’s largest planet in all its complex glory.
The four photos — which Juno took over an 8-minute span on Sept. 1, during its most recent close flyby of Jupiter — show the gas giant’s many cloud bands and countless swirling storms (but not the famous Great Red Spot).
“At the times the images were taken, the spacecraft ranged from 7,545 to 14,234 miles (12,143 to 22,908 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude range of -28.5406 to -44.4912 degrees,” NASA officials wrote in a description of the images. You can see more amazing photos of Jupiter by Juno here.
The new photos actually represent a collaboration between Juno and citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt Sean Doran, who processed raw imagery collected by the probe’s JunoCam instrument into these dramatic, color-enhanced views.
Go-to the JunoCam page: Click Me Here.
The $1.1 billion Juno mission launched in August 2011 and arrived in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Since then, the spacecraft has been studying the giant planet’s structure, composition, and magnetic and gravitational fields, gathering data that mission scientists say should shed light on Jupiter’s formation and evolution.
Juno is in a highly elliptical orbit that brings it close to the planet once every 53.5 Earth days. The spacecraft collects most of its data during these close passes; it has now completed eight of them.
Juno is scheduled to keep studying Jupiter through July 2018, though the probe won’t necessarily cease operations then; NASA could end up granting an extending mission.
Jupiter’s cloud bands: The fifth planet from the sun is famous for its multi-coloured bands that dot its atmosphere, making Jupiter resemble a marble.
Jupiter’s cloud bands: Until recently, no one was sure whether these stripes are only on the surface, like blemishes, or extended farther inward.
Jupiter’s cloud bands: Thanks to an unprecedented look inside Jupiter’s atmosphere by the Juno spacecraft, we now know these stripes reach at least 350 to 400 kilometers beneath the outermost halo.
Peeling Jupiter’s cloud bands:
These remarkable findings were made public last week by Scott Bolton, head of the Juno mission, at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.
It took the Juno spacecraft five years to reach the massive planet, but it eventually entered its orbit on July 4.
Jupiter’s cloud bands: It soon after turned over a slew of gems like the first ever colour image of Jupiter from orbit, as well as valuable data. For instance, thanks to Juno, we now know why Jupiter’s atmosphere is so hot — because of its famous red spot.
Now, the same Juno probe peered through Jupiter’s clouds, which optical light can’t penetrate.
Jupiter’s cloud bands: Using microwave instruments that each probe the colored stripes at different wavelengths, NASA scientists were able to distinguish between the various layers of clouds, like peeling back the layers of an onion. The microwave data revealed a striking find: some of these stripes are still visible deep into the cloud.“The structure of the zones and belts still exists deep down,” Bolton said during a news conference .”So whatever’s making those colors, whatever’s making those stripes, is still existing pretty far down into Jupiter. That came as a surprise to many of the scientists. We didn’t know if this was [just] skin-deep.”
“Deep down, Jupiter is similar but also very different than what we see on the surface,” Bolton added. “We can’t tell what all of it means yet, but it’s telling us hints about the deep dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter’s atmosphere.”
Jupiter’s cloud bands: Interestingly enough, the bands from the top clouds are not identical to those seen in the subsequent layers, despite the similarities.
The microwave measurements were made during Juno’s flyby of Jupiter on August 27. The closest encounter between the gas giant and a man-made craft also returned other interesting findings.
For instance, by measuring the magnetic field of the planet, NASA scientists found that Jupiter’s beautiful auroras are not unlike the northern and southern lights that flash in the polar skies on Earth — that’s despite that these are 100 times brighter than on Earth and stretch over a huge surface.
There is still much to learn about Jupiter and as long as Juno is still operational, we will learn more. Right now, the probe is on a non-circular orbit which takes 53 days to complete but will soon fire its engine to enter a 14-day orbit.