Juno's Initial Exploration of Jupiter Will Leave You Breathless and Inspired

Brave New World

When the NASA team launched the spacecraft Juno on August 5, 2011, they hoped the mission would yield new data about Jupiter. Among the questions that launched the mission were whether the gas planet has a solid core, how it produces such extreme radiation, and insight into its evolution. Since Jupiter is composed of the same elements as the sun (helium and hydrogen), scientists hope to glean insight into the origins of the solar system. 

The probe Juno and its subject, the red-eyed Jupiter

The probe Juno and its subject, the red-eyed Jupiter

An Expensive and Long Journey

Juno reached Jupiter's orbit on July 4, 2016, almost four years after setting out, but the long journey may have been worth it. The initial cost to build Juno in 2003 was $700 million, but 2011 projections estimated Juno would incur a price tag of 1.1 billion over its lifetime!

The First Crop of Results

 The findings, published in the journal Science Geophysical and Research Letters, were collected on the first data-collection pass last August 27, when Juno flew some 2600 miles above Jupiter's famed swirling clouds of ammonia and ice. Already its discoveries are causing scientists to reexamine many longheld assumptions about the fifth and largest planet in our solar system.

A few of the initial discoveries:

  • Enormous cyclones, measuring up to 600 miles in diameter, swirl around Jupiter's poles
  • MAG data indicates the magnetic field greatly exceeded expectations at 7.766 Gauss, about 10 times stronger than the strongest magnetic field found on Earth.
  • Jupiter's core may not be very dense at all
  • The south pole is nothing like the north pole, indicating the presence of far more dynamic weather patterns than previously thought

But why? Everyone awaits the next yield of information.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on these poetic and detailed images.

A shot of Jupiter's south pole with the cyclones from 32,000 miles away

A shot of Jupiter's south pole with the cyclones from 32,000 miles away

The "eyes" of Jupiter

The "eyes" of Jupiter

The following sequence of images shows, in essence, a slowed-down progression of the spacecraft's flyover Jupiter:

The first image on the left shows the entire half-lit globe of Jupiter, with the north pole approximately in the center. As the spacecraft gets closer to Jupiter, the horizon moves in and the range of visible latitudes shrinks. The third and fourth images in this sequence show the north polar region rotating away from our view while a band of wavy clouds at northern mid-latitudes comes into view. By the fifth image of the sequence the band of turbulent clouds is nicely centered in the image. The seventh and eighth images were taken just before the spacecraft was at its closest point to Jupiter, near Jupiter’s equator.
— https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/sequence-of-juno-spacecrafts-close-approach-to-jupiter

To make this mission even feasible, Juno's engineers had to resolve how to protect the probe from incineration in Jupiter's intense magnetic field. In order to capture these images and escape this certain doom, the probe had to slip in between Jupiter's poles where the magnetism is weakest. Once in this orbit, Juno's instruments could safely work and collect data. 

This gif show's the path Juno travels to sneak through Jupiter's magnetosphere.

This gif show's the path Juno travels to sneak through Jupiter's magnetosphere.

Juno's transit in this polar orbit keeps it far away from the gas giant for most of the time. But every 53 days, for two hours, the spacecraft travels from Jupiter's north pole to its south pole. The trajectory allows its 9 instruments, including the the visible-light camera/telescope of the orbiter known as the JunoCam (responsible for the images here),  to collect six megabytes of data that then take 1.5 days to download once received back on Earth.

NASA posts the raw image files on the JunoCam website so that anyone can download them and work their own digital wizardry. You're encouraged to upload your best creations so they can be re-shared with the greater public.  Any visitor to this site can also vote on what the spacecraft should look at next. The next fly-by on July 11 will include a closer look at the Great Red Spot.  Juno will be circling Jupiter through 2018 - the time it takes to complete 37 orbits - so get your requests in! 

Whether an artist or scientist, these latest images of Jupiter released recently by NASA - collected the JunoCam, will captivate you. They took our breath away and we had to share them!

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

More information on the Juno mission is available at: https://www.nasa.gov/juno and http://missionjuno.org

You can also follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

Author: Lila Galindo

Sources: https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/5/27/15698204/jupiter-new-photos-juno; Wikipedia, NASA, and http://www.iflscience.com/space/here-are-some-lovely-new-pictures-of-jupiter/