This month the NASA space probe Juno completed its tenth science orbit around the planet Jupiter.  The spacecraft came as close as 2,100 miles from the planet’s clouded surface, and sent back to Earth what must be the most beautiful images of any celestial orb ever captured.  Just take a look at these images above and below and see if you agree.  The most astounding are the images from the southern hemisphere of the planet (as shown above), providing a new vantage of our view of the planet.

Juno collects scientific data and records it until Jupiter is free of “solar conjunction” and can safely transmit the data back to the science team on Earth.  Juno was launched August 5, 2011, and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.  Its “JunoCam” camera has produced some of the best images of any scientific instrument to date.  During these flybys, the spacecraft is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras, seeking to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere.  When Juno arrived at Jupiter, it moved faster than any human-made object has ever gone: 165,000 miles per hour.  This month’s photographs were taken at about 130,000 miles per hour.

New view of the northern hemisphere of Jupiter.  Courtesy of NASA Juno, February 7, 2018.

The clarity is phenomenal and the imagery nothing but spectacular.  With the exception of the Sun, Jupiter is the most dominant object in the solar system.  Because of its size and the fact that it was the first of the gas-giant planets to form, it has profoundly influenced the formation and evolution of all the other planets.  In studying Jupiter, NASA hopes to learn more about the origin of the universe.  The cloud features, which appear like something from Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, primarily consist of hydrogen and helium.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

The famous red spot of Jupiter–the giant storm cloud feature that has given the planet its identity since humans first observed it as early as the 1830s and possibly as early as the 17th century–is shrinking daily and scientists believe it may disappear within the next 25 years.  First photographed by Pioneer 10 in 1973, the red spot has been the subject of much study.  Scientists have been aware of the red spot shrinking since the 1930s, but the rate has increased over the past few years.  Juno is expected to be able to continue to send images as well as scientific data back to Earth for another 2 to 3 years.

The top images were taken by Juno about 10:30 a.m. Central time on February 7, 2018, and the bottom image is from a Juno flyby on December 16, 2017.

Learn more about the Juno space probe and NASA’s efforts at the spacecraft’s mission website here.

You can also monitor the JunoCam yourself at any time at the camera’s own website here.  NASA invites everyone to download and manipulate the photographs for artistic or other purposes.

C.J. Bunce