A Whole New Way of Looking at Jupiter

A Whole New Way of Looking at Jupiter

NASA released photographs of Jupiter today taken by its Juno spacecraft that show the planet in an entirely new light.  Juno is the first spacecraft to fly around the planet’s polar axis and the view from there could not be more different than the familiar image of Jupiter with its red spot that fills textbooks everywhere.

Yes, this is Jupiter.

Jupiter’s south pole as seen from NASA’s Juno spacecraft at an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers).  Credits:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

The image was taken by the Junocam camera.  Juno was launched in 2011 and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.  A problem with its engine is preventing mission managers from moving Juno from its initial 53-day highly elliptical orbit into a planned closer 14-day orbit, but it is obtaining amazing data and images nonetheless.

During a media teleconference today, Juno mission scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Planetary Science Institute, and NASA Headquarters described the startling data collected so far.  

“Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new,” said principal investigator Scott Bolton from SwRI in San Antonio, TX.  “We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves” but now “we are finding Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders.”

The images of the poles show they are covered in “Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together,” but that is all that is known so far.  Bolton said the two poles do not look like each other, either.

The spacecraft has made five science passes to date and is revealing much about the gaseous planet, the largest in the solar system.  Although other spacecraft have flown by or orbited Jupiter, Juno is the first in an orbit that allows studies of its polar regions.

Artist’s concept of Juno, with its three solar panels, orbiting Jupiter’s poles.  Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

Other Juno data are surprising scientists about the planet’s magnetic field and thermal radiation.  More images from today’s teleconference and a link to press release are posted on NASA’s website.


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