Traveling above Jupiter at more than 130,000 mph, NASA’s $1 billion Juno probe took its ninth set of stunning flyby images on October 24.
But the sun slipped between the giant planet and Earth for more than a week, blocking the spacecraft from beaming home its precious bounty of data. Now that the conjunction is over, however, new raw image data from Juno’s ninth perijove – as the spacecraft’s high-speed flybys are called – has poured in.
Below are some fresh, close-up images of Jupiter, along with other unbelievable views captured from earlier perijoves.
In the most recent flyby, as with the previous eight, Juno started over Jupiter’s north pole.
The spacecraft then swept within a few thousand miles of the gas giant, capturing stunning high-resolution views of its cloud tops.
At its closest approach to Jupiter during each flyby, the robot briefly becomes the fastest human-made object in the solar system, reaching speeds of about 130,000 mph.
Then Juno flew back out into deep space, passing over Jupiter’s south pole on its exit. Churning storms at the poles constantly change their appearance.
Juno pulls off this two-hour flyby, called a perijove, once every 53 days — the length of its extreme orbit around Jupiter.
Juno was supposed to speed up and fly by the gas giant planet every two weeks, but a sticky engine valve prevented that maneuver.
Researchers upload the raw data sent by the probe to the mission’s website.
There, enthusiasts take the drab, mostly gray image data and process it into true-to-life color photos.
Many snapshots of Jupiter take on an artistic quality.
Others dazzle with their detail of the planet’s thick cloud bands and powerful storms.
Some of the tempests are large enough to swallow Earth — or at least a good chunk of it.
The planet’s atmosphere is a turbulent mess of hydrogen and helium gases.
There are also traces of molecules like ammonia, methane, sulfur, and water that give the clouds different colors and properties.
The mixture sometimes creates features that look like faces (as seen on the left in this image).
Other times, shining-white clouds fill up most of a band.
Many cloud bands have features called chevrons. These atmospheric disturbances blow at several hundreds of miles per hour and sometimes zigzag through a band or punch through into others.
In this view of Jupiter from Juno’s eighth perijove, two cloud bands battle for dominance — one of them contains a swirling storm many times as large as a hurricane on Earth.
Sean Doran, an artist and space enthusiast, often animates Juno’s images into videos. These movies provide a sense of what it’s like to fly past Jupiter’s cloud tops. (This one’s from the eighth perijove.)
Source: Sean Doran/Flickr
The spacecraft will continue to document Jupiter for as long as NASA can keep it going. But not forever.
NASA will eventually destroy the $1 billion robot. That way, it can’t accidentally crash into Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, possibly contaminating its ocean and any alien life.