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.
“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.
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.
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.