Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran
Accompanying the famous Great Red Spot storm in this image is a second storm nicknamed Oval BA. Unlike its larger russet companion, Oval BAformed under scientists' eyes, when three smaller storms collided in 2000.
The visible-light camera on board Juno, called JunoCam, has been able to watch Oval BA change over the course of the mission, with the storm becoming paler since a previous visit nearly a year ago, according to a statement from the Southwest Research Institute, which manages the mission.
The image consists of three separate photographs combined and digitally enhanced by volunteer imaging experts here on Earth. JunoCam captured the images when it was between 23,800 miles and 34,500 miles (38,300 and 55,500 kilometers) above Jupiter's clouds. The three photographs were taken during a 10-minute period on Dec. 21, during the spacecraft's 16th close science flyby of Jupiter.
Last month's flyby marks the halfway point of Juno's mission, which was carefully designed to cover the entire surface of the gas giant in 32 flybys. The spacecraft will remain at work until July 2021 to complete those orbits. Its next close approach will come on Feb. 12.
NASA's Juno Spacecraft Just Sent Back A Stunning Photo Of Jupiter's Mysterious Giant Jet-Stream
NASA's Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting the giant planet Jupiter since summer 2016, is getting dangerously close to challenging other NASA's planetary spacecraft Cassini and Voyager for true iconic status.
Its little solar-powered probe has just sent back a trove of incredible images from its latest 'dip' towards Jupiter, including this incredible image (below) of swirling clouds that surround a circular feature within a jet stream region called 'Jet N6.'
Swirling clouds within Jupiter's Jet N6 jet-stream, taken at 9:20 a.m. PST (12:20 p.m. EST) on Feb. 12, 2019, as the spacecraft performed its 18th close flyby of the gas giant planet.NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SWRI/MSSS/KEVIN M. GILL
This color-enhanced image was created by 'citizen scientist' Kevin M. Gill image using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager. It was taken on Feb. 12, 2019, as the spacecraft performed its 18th close flyby of the gas giant planet. NASA says that Juno was about 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) from the planet's cloud tops when it snapped the photo.
In November 2018, Juno tool these images of a cloud in the shape of a dolphin appearing to swim through the cloud bands along Jupiter's South South Temperate Belt.NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SWRI/MSSS/BRIAN SWIFT/SEÁN DORAN
NASA is making the raw images from JunoCam available online to anyone who wants to look at them, or like Gill, process them.
The latest collection of raw images is from what NASA calls Juno's 'Perijove 18'. A perijove is essentially a close flyby of Jupiter. Juno is in a big polar orbit of the giant planet, and every 53 days it passes just 3,000 miles shy of Jupiter’s cloud tops. That's when it's taking all of its photos, so expect a 'data dump' every couple of months.
Juno's mission was replanned last June after concerns over valves on its fule system. Either way, Juno will crash into Jupiter in July 2021.
'Jupiter Blues' was taken in November 2017 and processed by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran.NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SWRI/MSSS/GERALD EICHSTADT/SEAN DORAN
Breathtaking photo of Jupiter clouds looks like a work of art: 'Van Gogh is that you?'
An image captured by NASA's Jupiter spacecraft paints a stunning picture of the planet's swirling clouds.
The image, color-enhanced by software engineer Kevin M. Gill, was created using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager.
The view is of a jet stream region named "Jet N6" at 12:20 p.m. EST on Feb. 12. At the time, NASA reports Juno was about 8,000 miles from the planet's cloud tops.
On Twitter, people compared the image to famous artists including Claude Monet and Jack Pollock paintings. Several users asked, "Van Gogh is that you?"
This isn't the first time we've seen an artful photo of the planet. In June, NASA released an image of the Jupiter's "chaotic and turbulent" clouds, with swirling formations and several vortices in the giant planet's northern hemisphere.
More: NASA releases 'turbulent' photo of Jupiter's clouds
NASA's Juno Finds Changes in Jupiter's Magnetic Field
This still from an animation illustrates Jupiter's magnetic field at a single moment in time. The Great Blue Spot, an-invisible-to-the-eye concentration of magnetic field near the equator, stands out as a particularly strong feature. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard/Moore et al.
This striking view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and turbulent southern hemisphere was captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft as it performed a close pass of the gas giant planet.
Juno took the three images used to produce this color-enhanced view on Feb. 12, 2019, between 9:59 a.m. PST (12:59 p.m. EST) and 10:39 a.m. PST (1:39 p.m. EST), as the spacecraft performed its 17th science pass of Jupiter. At the time the images were taken, the spacecraft was between 16,700 miles (26,900 kilometers) and 59,300 miles (95,400 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops, above a southern latitude spanning from about 40 to 74 degrees.
Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager.
NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter made the first definitive detection beyond our world of an internal magnetic field that changes over time, a phenomenon called secular variation. Juno determined the gas giant's secular variation is most likely driven by the planet's deep atmospheric winds.
The discovery will help scientists further understand Jupiter's interior structure - including atmospheric dynamics - as well as changes in Earth's magnetic field. A paper on the discovery was published today in the journal Nature Astronomy.
"Secular variation has been on the wish list of planetary scientists for decades," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "This discovery could only take place due to Juno's extremely accurate science instruments and the unique nature of Juno's orbit, which carries it low over the planet as it travels from pole to pole."
Characterizing the magnetic field of a planet requires close-up measurements. Juno scientists compared data from NASA's past missions to Jupiter (Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and Ulysses) to a new model of Jupiter's magnetic field (called JRM09). The new model was based on data collected during Juno's first eight science passes of Jupiter using its magnetometer, an instrument capable of generating a detailed three-dimensional map of the magnetic field.
What scientists found is that from the first Jupiter magnetic field data provided by the Pioneer spacecraft through to the latest data provided by Juno, there were small but distinct changes to the field.
"Finding something as minute as these changes in something so immense as Jupiter's magnetic field was a challenge," said Kimee Moore, a Juno scientist from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Having a baseline of close-up observations over four decades long provided us with just enough data to confirm that Jupiter's magnetic field does indeed change over time."
Once the Juno team proved secular variation did occur, they sought to explain how such a change might come about. The operation of Jupiter's atmospheric (or zonal) winds best explained the changes in its magnetic field. These winds extend from the planet's surface to over 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) deep, where the planet's interior begins changing from gas to highly conductive liquid metal. They are believed to shear the magnetic fields, stretching them and carrying them around the planet.
Nowhere was Jupiter's secular variation as large as at the planet's Great Blue Spot, an intense patch of magnetic field near Jupiter's equator. The combination of the Great Blue Spot, with its strong localized magnetic fields, and strong zonal winds at this latitude result in the largest secular variations in the field on the Jovian world.
"It is incredible that one narrow magnetic hot spot, the Great Blue Spot, could be responsible for almost all of Jupiter's secular variation, but the numbers bear it out," said Moore. "With this new understanding of magnetic fields, during future science passes we will begin to create a planetwide map of Jupiter's secular variation. It may also have applications for scientists studying Earth's magnetic field, which still contains many mysteries to be solved."
NASA's JPL manages and operates the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. The Italian Space Agency (ASI) contributed two instruments, a Ka-band frequency translator (KaT) and the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM). Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built and operates the spacecraft.
How a NASA Scientist Looks in the Depths of the Great Red Spot to Find Water on Jupiter
For centuries, scientists have worked to understand the makeup of Jupiter. It’s no wonder: this mysterious planet is the biggest one in our solar system by far, and chemically, the closest relative to the Sun. Understanding Jupiter is key to learning more about how our solar system formed, and even about how other solar systems develop.
But one critical question has bedeviled astronomers for generations: Is there water deep in Jupiter's atmosphere, and if so, how much?
Gordon L. Bjoraker, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, reported in a recent paper in the Astronomical Journal that he and his team have brought the Jovian research community closer to the answer.
By looking from ground-based telescopes at wavelengths sensitive to thermal radiation leaking from the depths of Jupiter's persistent storm, the Great Red Spot, they detected the chemical signatures of water above the planet’s deepest clouds. The pressure of the water, the researchers concluded, combined with their measurements of another oxygen-bearing gas, carbon monoxide, imply that Jupiter has 2 to 9 times more oxygen than the Sun. This finding supports theoretical and computer-simulation models that have predicted abundant water (H2O) on Jupiter made of oxygen (O) tied up with molecular hydrogen (H2).
The revelation was stirring given that the team’s experiment could have easily failed. The Great Red Spot is full of dense clouds, which makes it hard for electromagnetic energy to escape and teach astronomers anything about the chemistry within.
“It turns out they're not so thick that they block our ability to see deeply,” said Bjoraker. “That’s been a pleasant surprise.”
New spectroscopic technology and sheer curiosity gave the team a boost in peering deep inside Jupiter, which has an atmosphere thousands of miles deep, Bjoraker said: “We thought, well, let’s just see what’s out there.”
The data Bjoraker and his team collected will supplement the information NASA’s Juno spacecraft is gathering as it circles the planet from north to south once every 53 days.
Among other things, Juno is looking for water with its own infrared spectrometer and with a microwave radiometer that can probe deeper than anyone has seen — to 100 bars, or 100 times the atmospheric pressure at Earth’s surface. (Altitude on Jupiter is measured in bars, which represent atmospheric pressure, since the planet does not have a surface, like Earth, from which to measure elevation.)
If Juno returns similar water findings, thereby backing Bjoraker’s ground-based technique, it could open a new window into solving the water problem, said Goddard’s Amy Simon, a planetary atmospheres expert.
“If it works, then maybe we can apply it elsewhere, like Saturn, Uranus or Neptune, where we don’t have a Juno,” she said.
Juno is the latest spacecraft tasked with finding water, likely in gas form, on this giant gaseous planet.
Water is a significant and abundant molecule in our solar system. It spawned life on Earth and now lubricates many of its most essential processes, including weather. It’s a critical factor in Jupiter’s turbulent weather, too, and in determining whether the planet has a core made of rock and ice.
Jupiter is thought to be the first planet to have formed by siphoning the elements left over from the formation of the Sun as our star coalesced from an amorphous nebula into the fiery ball of gases we see today. A widely accepted theory until several decades ago was that Jupiter was identical in composition to the Sun; a ball of hydrogen with a hint of helium — all gas, no core.
But evidence is mounting that Jupiter has a core, possibly 10 times Earth’s mass. Spacecraft that previously visited the planet found chemical evidence that it formed a core of rock and water ice before it mixed with gases from the solar nebula to make its atmosphere. The way Jupiter’s gravity tugs on Juno also supports this theory. There’s even lightning and thunderon the planet, phenomena fueled by moisture.
“The moons that orbit Jupiter are mostly water ice, so the whole neighborhood has plenty of water,” said Bjoraker. “Why wouldn't the planet — which is this huge gravity well, where everything falls into it — be water rich, too?”
The water question has stumped planetary scientists; virtually every time evidence of H2O materializes, something happens to put them off the scent. A favorite example among Jupiter experts is NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, which dropped a probe into the atmosphere in 1995 that wound up in an unusually dry region. "It's like sending a probe to Earth, landing in the Mojave Desert, and concluding the Earth is dry,” pointed out Bjoraker.
In their search for water, Bjoraker and his team used radiation data collected from the summit of Maunakea in Hawaii in 2017. They relied on the most sensitive infrared telescope on Earth at the W.M. Keck Observatory, and also on a new instrument that can detect a wider range of gases at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility.
The idea was to analyze the light energy emitted through Jupiter’s clouds in order to identify the altitudes of its cloud layers. This would help the scientists determine temperature and other conditions that influence the types of gases that can survive in those regions.
Planetary atmosphere experts expect that there are three cloud layers on Jupiter: a lower layer made of water ice and liquid water, a middle one made of ammonia and sulfur, and an upper layer made of ammonia.
To confirm this through ground-based observations, Bjoraker’s team looked at wavelengths in the infrared range of light where most gases don’t absorb heat, allowing chemical signatures to leak out. Specifically, they analyzed the absorption patterns of a form of methane gas. Because Jupiter is too warm for methane to freeze, its abundance should not change from one place to another on the planet.
“If you see that the strength of methane lines vary from inside to outside of the Great Red Spot, it's not because there's more methane here than there,” said Bjoraker, “it's because there are thicker, deep clouds that are blocking the radiation in the Great Red Spot.”
Bjoraker’s team found evidence for the three cloud layers in the Great Red Spot, supporting earlier models. The deepest cloud layer is at 5 bars, the team concluded, right where the temperature reaches the freezing point for water, said Bjoraker, “so I say that we very likely found a water cloud.” The location of the water cloud, plus the amount of carbon monoxide that the researchers identified on Jupiter, confirms that Jupiter is rich in oxygen and, thus, water.
Bjoraker’s technique now needs to be tested on other parts of Jupiter to get a full picture of global water abundance, and his data squared with Juno’s findings.
“Jupiter’s water abundance will tell us a lot about how the giant planet formed, but only if we can figure out how much water there is in the entire planet,” said Steven M. Levin, a Juno project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.