While most NASA workers were sipping coffee on Wednesday morning, the space agency’s Juno probe was screaming over the cloud tops of Jupiter at roughly 130,000 miles per hour.
The $1 billion mission sends Juno swinging around the planet on an elliptical orbit about once every 53.5 days. The spacecraft made its eleventh close pass, or perijove, around 9:36 a.m. ET on February 7, taking some gorgeous photos of the gas giant in the process.
The new images reveal giant bands of swirling storms and a unusually bright, pillowy cloud, among other features.
Sometimes it takes Juno days (or even weeks) to beam back all of its raw image data, but the JunoCam instrument’s unparalleled view is always worth the wait. The images shared online rarely come from NASA, though: The data gets posted to a special website where a community of science and art enthusiasts can take the black-and-white files and tweak them into stunning color pictures, which they upload back to the site.
Here are some of the prettiest new images we’ve seen from Juno’s latest orbit.
Juno’s journey began with its launch on August 5, 2011. It took the probe nearly five years to reach orbit around Jupiter.
Radiation fields around Jupiter are so intense that they can damage electronics, so NASA set Juno on a course to spend very little time close to the planet.
Juno pulls off a two-hour flyby, called a perijove, once every 53.5 days — the length of its wild orbit around Jupiter.
NASA was supposed to shrink Juno’s orbits to once every two weeks, but a faulty engine valve foiled that maneuver.
Strafing the planet minimizes radiation damage yet allows unprecedented views like this one. In this image, a solitary and unusually bright cloud is caught in a maelstrom of storms.
Juno is the first and only spacecraft ever to spy on Jupiter’s poles.
Those poles are choked with clusters of storms, some the size of Earth’s continents or oceans.
People who process the image each have a preferred style. Some prefer to dial back the contrast, giving Jupiter a softer look…
… While others prefer to accentuate the chaos among the gas giant’s clouds.
Researchers are using Juno data to learn about the formation and evolution of Jupiter’s cloud features, which are predominantly made of hydrogen and helium.
The same goes for the Great Red Spot, which is shrinking daily — and may vanish within a decade or two.
Source: Business Insider
But we may see a new superstorm emerge on the planet during our lifetimes.
NASA hopes Juno can explore Jupiter for at least two or three more years. Juno could probe beyond the planet’s thick clouds with its non-camera instruments, and reveal unprecedented details about Jupiter’s internal structure.
In the meantime, we hope Juno will continue to beam back stunning new pictures of the solar system’s largest planet.