Images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot reveal a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval. The JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno mission snapped pics of the most iconic feature of the Solar System’s largest planetary inhabitant during its Monday flyby. The images of the Great Red Spot were downlinked from the spacecraft’s memory on Tuesday and placed on the mission’s JunoCam website Wednesday morning.
“For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorising about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” says Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyse all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno’s eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present and future of the Great Red Spot.”
As planned by the Juno team, citizen scientists took the raw images of the flyby from the JunoCam site and processed them, providing a higher level of detail than available in their raw form. The citizen-scientist images, as well as the raw images they used for image processing, can be found here.
“I have been following the Juno mission since it launched,” says Jason Major, a JunoCam citizen scientist and a graphic designer from Warwick, Rhode Island. “It is always exciting to see these new raw images of Jupiter as they arrive. But it is even more thrilling to take the raw images and turn them into something that people can appreciate. That is what I live for.”
Measuring in at 10,159 miles (16,350 kilometres) in width (as of 3 April 2017) Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth. The storm has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking.
All of Juno’s science instruments and the spacecraft’s JunoCam were operating during the flyby, collecting data that are now being returned to Earth. Juno’s next close flyby of Jupiter will occur on 1 September.
Juno reached perijove (the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter’s centre) on 10 July. At the time of perijove, Juno was about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) above the planet’s cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno had covered another 24,713 miles (39,771 kilometres), and was passing directly above the coiling, crimson cloud tops of the Great Red Spot. The spacecraft passed about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometres) above the clouds of this iconic feature.
Juno launched on 5 August, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet’s cloud tops – as close as about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometres). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its aurorae to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission portray the largest planet in our Solar System as a turbulent world, with an intriguingly complex interior structure, energetic polar aurora, and huge polar cyclones.
“These highly-anticipated images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot are the ‘perfect storm’ of art and science. With data from Voyager, Galileo, New Horizons, Hubble and now Juno, we have a better understanding of the composition and evolution of this iconic feature,” says Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science. “We are pleased to share the beauty and excitement of space science with everyone.”
Keep up to date with the latest space news in All About Space – available every month for just £4.99. Alternatively you can subscribe here for a fraction of the price!