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NASA’s $1 billion Jupiter probe just sent back breathtaking new images of the Great Red Spot

NASA’s plucky Juno probe has returned its first close-up photographs of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, and they are stunning.

On Monday, Juno flew about 5,600 miles above the mysterious tempest — roughly a million miles closer than any previous spacecraft has flown.

The Great Red Spot is a massive storm between one and two times as wide as Earth. It has tumbled in the planet’s atmosphere for at least 350 years (but won’t last forever).

Juno took the new photos on its seventh pass around the gas-giant planet. The spacecraft swings by Jupiter once every 53 1/2 days at speeds approaching 130,000 mph, which makes such close-ups very hard to capture.

After each flyby, NASA provides JunoCam’s raw image data to the public, and a community of amateurs and professionals turns the muted, unprocessed photos into striking color images.

Below are fresh images of the Great Red Spot, along with some other unbelievable shots from previous flybys.

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“This monumental storm has raged on the solar system’s biggest planet for centuries,” Scott Bolton, the Juno mission’s leader, said in a NASA statement.

At its closest point, Juno flew so close to the Great Red Spot that it couldn’t capture the whole thing in one view. The image below shows the approximate angle that JunoCam was able to see at that point.

At its closest point, Juno flew so close to the Great Red Spot that it couldn't capture the whole thing in one view. The image below shows the approximate angle that JunoCam was able to see at that point.

The parts of Jupiter that Juno planned to photograph on Monday.NASA; Microsoft/WorldWide Telescope; Business Insider

Making the task even more challenging: The probe zoomed by at a speed of about 34 miles a second. That’s speedy enough to traverse the continental US in a little more than a minute.

As a result, JunoCam strafed the planet with a series of images.

Getting within a cosmic breath of the storm allowed Juno to beam back images that show the Great Red Spot in unprecedented detail, like the ones below.

These remarkable 3D images show the depth of the storm’s cloud layers. Winds in the Great Red Spot blow at speeds of about 400 mph.

Candice Hansen, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, told Business Insider in an email that “this will not be the only flyover of the Great Red Spot planned, but it is the closest.”

To give a sense of scale, artist Seán Doran mocked up the Earth sinking into the Great Red Spot.

To give a sense of scale, artist Seán Doran mocked up the Earth sinking into the Great Red Spot.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, as seen by NASA’s Juno probe on July 10, 2017, compared to the size of Earth.NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Another user made this composite image. It places one of Juno’s new detailed images of the Great Red Spot on top of a photo of the planet captured by Voyager 1 in 1979.

Another user made this composite image. It places one of Juno's new detailed images of the Great Red Spot on top of a photo of the planet captured by Voyager 1 in 1979.

NASA-JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Santiago Vargas Domínguez

The image from Voyager was taken from a distance of nearly 25 million miles (40 million kilometers), whereas Juno flew just about 5,600 miles (9,000 km) over the Great Red Spot.

In the bottom-left corner of Voyager’s image is the moon Ganymede.

The Great Red Spot wasn’t the only super-storm photographed by Juno, though. This image shows the “North North Temperate Zone Little Red Spot.”

In previous flybys, Juno has captured remarkable shots of other storms and clouds on Jupiter. This photo of an egg-shaped vortex was taken February 2.

This is what part of Jupiter’s cloud tops looked like on May 19 from roughly 7,800 miles away.

And this is part of the Jupiter’s “string of pearls” storm cloud. The image was taken during Juno’s fifth flyby, on March 27.

Juno has also captured more distant images of Jupiter. This striking view of the planet’s south pole was taken May 19 then processed by two “citizen scientists” to bring out the photo’s contrast and color.

A straight-down view of Jupiter’s pole from about 32,000 miles away reveals a blue-tinted patch of cyclonic storms that are each about 600 miles wide. For reference, the US state of Texas is about 790 miles wide.

A straight-down view of Jupiter's pole from about 32,000 miles away reveals a blue-tinted patch of cyclonic storms that are each about 600 miles wide. For reference, the US state of Texas is about 790 miles wide.

A photo of Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

Juno also occasionally looks out away from Jupiter, toward the rest of space. This image may not seem like much, but it’s unprecedented: The faint line in the middle is Jupiter’s rings of ice and dust. Behind it sits the constellation Orion.

Juno also occasionally looks out away from Jupiter, toward the rest of space. This image may not seem like much, but it's unprecedented: The faint line in the middle is Jupiter's rings of ice and dust. Behind it sits the constellation Orion.

A view of Jupiter’s rings from the inside.NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Juno settled into orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Recent studies published in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters detailed a bounty of discoveries the probe had helped NASA scientists make since then. Those discoveries include “rivers” of hot ammonia shown in this infrared-light animation.

But Juno won’t fly forever. NASA plans to plunge the spacecraft into Jupiter’s clouds in 2018 or 2019. This will prevent the probe from spreading any bacteria from Earth to the gas giant’s icy, ocean-filled moons like Europa and Ganymede.

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