Jupiter up close: See historic first high resolution images

Written by Mark Prigg

Nasa’s Juno spacecraft has sent back the first-ever images of Jupiter’s poles, taken during the spacecraft’s first flyby of the planet with its instruments switched on.

The incredible images show storm systems and weather activity ‘unlike anything previously seen’. They reveal stormy conditions, high clouds and a strange blue hue on the planet.

As Nasa's Juno spacecraft closed in on Jupiter for its Aug. 27, 2016 pass, its view grew sharper and fine details in the north polar region became increasingly visible. The JunoCam instrument obtained this view on August 27, about two hours before closest approach, when the spacecraft was 120,000 miles (195,000 kilometers) away from the giant planet (i.e., for Jupiter's center).

As Nasa’s Juno spacecraft closed in on Jupiter for its Aug. 27, 2016 pass, its view grew sharper and fine details in the north polar region became increasingly visible. The JunoCam instrument obtained this view on August 27, about two hours before closest approach, when the spacecraft was 120,000 miles (195,000 kilometers) away from the giant planet (i.e., for Jupiter’s center).

Juno successfully executed the first of 36 orbital flybys on Aug. 27 when the spacecraft came about 2,500 miles (4,200 kilometers) above Jupiter’s swirling clouds. The download of six megabytes of data collected during the six-hour transit, from above Jupiter’s north pole to below its south pole, took one-and-a-half days.

Unlike rocky Earth and Mars, Jupiter is a gas giant that likely formed first, shortly after the sun.  Studying the largest planet in the solar system may hold clues to understanding how Earth and the rest of the planets formed, astronomers hope. While analysis of this first data collection is ongoing, some unique discoveries have already made themselves visible.

‘First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,’ said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

‘It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms.

‘There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to – this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter.  ‘We’re seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.’

One of the most notable findings of these first-ever pictures of Jupiter’s north and south poles is something that the JunoCam imager did not see.

‘Saturn has a hexagon at the north pole,’ said Bolton.

‘There is nothing on Jupiter that anywhere near resembles that.

This montage of 10 JunoCam images shows Jupiter growing and shrinking in apparent size before and after NASA's Juno spacecraft made its closest approach on August 27, 2016, at 12:50 UTC. 

The images are spaced about 10 hours apart, one Jupiter day, so the Great Red Spot is always in roughly the same place. The small black spots visible on the planet in some of the images are shadows of the large Galilean moons.

This montage of 10 JunoCam images shows Jupiter growing and shrinking in apparent size before and after NASA’s Juno spacecraft made its closest approach on August 27, 2016, at 12:50 UTC. The images are spaced about 10 hours apart, one Jupiter day, so the Great Red Spot is always in roughly the same place. The small black spots visible on the planet in some of the images are shadows of the large Galilean moons.

‘The largest planet in our solar system is truly unique. We have 36 more flybys to study just how unique it really is.’

Along with JunoCam snapping pictures during the flyby, all eight of Juno’s science instruments were energized and collecting data.

This image provides a close-up view of Jupiter's southern hemisphere, as seen by NASA's Juno spacecraft on August 27, 2016. The JunoCam instrument captured this image with its red spectral filter when the spacecraft was about 23,600 miles (38,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops. 

The image covers an area from close to the south pole to 20 degrees south of the equator, centered on a longitude at about 140 degrees west. The transition between the banded structures near the equator and the more chaotic polar region (south of about 65 degrees south latitude) can be clearly seen. A second version of the image shows the same view with a latitude/longitude grid overlaid.

This image provides a close-up view of Jupiter’s southern hemisphere, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on August 27, 2016. The JunoCam instrument captured this image with its red spectral filter when the spacecraft was about 23,600 miles (38,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops. The image covers an area from close to the south pole to 20 degrees south of the equator, centered on a longitude at about 140 degrees west. The transition between the banded structures near the equator and the more chaotic polar region (south of about 65 degrees south latitude) can be clearly seen. A second version of the image shows the same view with a latitude/longitude grid overlaid.

The Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), supplied by the Italian Space Agency, acquired some remarkable images of Jupiter at its north and south polar regions in infrared wavelengths.

‘JIRAM is getting under Jupiter’s skin, giving us our first infrared close-ups of the planet,’ said Alberto Adriani, JIRAM co-investigator from Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali, Rome.

‘These first infrared views of Jupiter’s north and south poles are revealing warm and hot spots that have never been seen before.

‘And while we knew that the first-ever infrared views of Jupiter’s south pole could reveal the planet’s southern aurora, we were amazed to see it for the first time.

‘No other instruments, both from Earth or space, have been able to see the southern aurora.

Juno was about 48,000 miles (78,000 kilometers) above Jupiter's polar cloud tops when it captured this view, showing storms and weather unlike anywhere else in the solar system.

Juno was about 48,000 miles (78,000 kilometers) above Jupiter’s polar cloud tops when it captured this view, showing storms and weather unlike anywhere else in the solar system.

‘Now, with JIRAM, we see that it appears to be very bright and well-structured.

‘The high level of detail in the images will tell us more about the aurora’s morphology and dynamics.’

Among the more unique data sets collected by Juno during its first scientific sweep by Jupiter was that acquired by the mission’s Radio/Plasma Wave Experiment (Waves), which recorded ghostly-sounding transmissions emanating from above the planet.

These radio emissions from Jupiter have been known about since the 1950s but had never been analyzed from such a close vantage point.

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