Who knew Jupiter was blue?
The giant planet often depicted as being orange and having a “Great Red Spot” storm is once again revealed to be a pale blueish planet in the latest spectacular images received from space.
The latest images from NASA’s Juno spacecraft —surely one of its most prolific ever launched—include spectacular close-ups of cyclones, vortices and swirls in Jupiter’s northern hemisphere.
The images, taken by its wide-angle JunoCam instrument, were received from 511 million miles/822 million kilometers via NASA’s Deep Space Network and then made available to the public.
All of these images included here have been processed by “citizen scientists,” not NASA itself. Perhaps that’s what makes them so impressive.
Juno sends images back to Earth only every 53 days. That’s because it’s on a highly elliptical orbit of Jupiter. It spends most of its time away from the planet, only conducting a close flyby every 53 days.
However, during each of these perijoves it gets super-close to Jupiter, skimming to within 3,100 miles /5,000 kilometers above the planet’s cloud tops. Its latest flyover was perijove 30—and it will sadly be one of its last.
The incredible images of the biggest planet in the Solar System are helping planetary astronomers better understand Jupiter. Just last month it was reported by NASA that an instrument on the Juno spacecraft may have detected “transient luminous events”—bright, unpredictable, and brief flashes of light in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter’s southern hemisphere.
Scientists had theorized their existence in the gas giant’s immense and turbulent atmosphere, but Juno’s ultraviolet spectrograph instrument (UVS) discovered something unexpected: a bright, narrow streak of ultraviolet emission that disappeared in a flash.
Although there have been eight other spacecraft to visit Jupiter, Juno is the first to study its interior and explore its origins.
As well as its scientific revelations and its regular supply of spectacular images, Juno also holds the title for being humanity’s most distant solar-powered spacecraft—most are nuclear-powered.
Operating five times farther from the Sun than Earth does have its challenges. The power of sunlight at Jupiter is 25 times dimmer than on Earth, so the four-ton Juno spacecraft has three massive 30-foot-long/9-meter solar arrays hosting a whopping18,698 solar cells.
Despite all that it generates just 500 watts.
Juno was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on August 5, 2011 and has been sending back images from Jupiter since it arrived in July 2016.
You can follow its progress on NASA’s Eyes and watch Kevin M. Gill’s spectacular flyover video from its 27th perijove if Jupiter on June 2, 2020.
It’s a combination of 41 JunoCam still images digitally projected onto a sphere. A virtual camera provides views of Jupiter from different angles as the spacecraft speeds by.
However, its mission is now coming to a close. The spacecraft will complete its mission on July 30, 2021 when during its 35th and final perijove it will be de-orbited into Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere and disintegrate.
So enjoy Juno’s spectacular images while you can—it only has five more orbits.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.