On July 10, the Juno spacecraft flew just 5,600 miles above Jupiter’s most recognizable feature: the Great Red Spot. It’s a storm that’s raged for 350 years, and it’s so large it could swallow Earth whole.
And now we have our closest look at it ever.
NASA creates these images by taking pictures of Jupiter with red, green, and blue filters and then processing them together for a full-color image. (It also has an infrared filter to bring out some features we couldn’t see with the naked eye.)
NASA suggests playing with the raw images to bring out certain texture and contrasts of the surface features and undulations of the various gases in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
But this mission is about more than beautiful photos. Juno has sensors that can detect magnetic fields, as well as the mass and composition of Jupiter’s atmosphere. "Now, Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special," Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator, said in a statement.
Juno’s observations may also shine a light on a big mystery: Why has the spot been shrinking over the decades? We won’t know until more data is processed.
In May, the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters published the first batch of scientific findings about Jupiter from Juno’s trips there. Discoveries include enormous new cyclones swirling around the planet’s poles, a magnetic field that’s much more variable than expected, and some evidence that Jupiter’s core is not as dense and compact as once thought. Juno has been orbiting Jupiter for a year, and it will continue to do so for at least one more.
With its 67 moons, Jupiter is kind of like a mini solar system inside our own. The planet is made up of the same basic ingredients as the sun — mainly hydrogen and helium — but doesn’t have enough mass to ignite and become a star. Jupiter’s gravity is so strong, it easily captures space objects into its orbit, which is one explanation for why it has so many moons.
The hope is that Juno, in its close-up investigation of Jupiter, can reveal some history of the origin of our solar system.
For now, it’s revealing the beauty of the cosmos.