Wednesday, September 7, 2016

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Returns First-Ever Images of Jupiter's North Pole

This infrared image gives an unprecedented view of the southern aurora of Jupiter, as captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft on August 27, 2016. The planet's southern aurora can hardly be seen from Earth due to our home planet's position in respect to Jupiter's south pole. Juno's unique polar orbit provides the first opportunity to observe this region of the gas-giant planet in detail. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - NASA’s Juno spacecraft has sent back the first-ever images of Jupiter’s north pole, taken during the spacecraft’s first flyby of the planet with its instruments switched on. The images show storm systems and weather activity unlike anything previously seen on any of our solar system’s gas-giant planets.




“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 the discovery of a hexagon.

“Saturn has a hexagon at the north pole,” said Bolton. “There is nothing on Jupiter that anywhere near resembles that. The largest planet in our solar system is truly unique. We have 36 more flybys to study just how unique it really is.”

Juno obtained this image on August 27, 2016, about two hours before closest approach to Jupiter, when the spacecraft was 120,000 miles (195,000 kilometers) away. Unlike the equatorial region's familiar structure of belts and zones, the poles are mottled with rotating storms of various sizes, similar to giant versions of terrestrial hurricanes. Jupiter's poles have not been seen from this perspective since the Pioneer 11 spacecraft flew by the planet in 1974. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Juno successfully executed the first of 36 orbital flybys on August 27, 2016 when the spacecraft reached around 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. While analysis of this first data collection is ongoing, some unique discoveries have already made themselves visible.

Juno launched on August 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.