On Wednesday last week NASA’s Juno spacecraft looped around Jupiter for the 44th time. As it did it took another set of jaw-dropping images of the giant planet.
They were transmitted to Earth last week and since then a team of citizen scientists have processed the data—and data showing Jupiter itself—into this stunning collection of images of its swirling storms and cyclones.
In a long elliptical orbit of Jupiter since 2016, NASA’s $1.1 billion Juno spacecraft’s latest flyby (called a perijove) of Jupiter saw it dip close to the giant planet’s northern polar regions.
Juno has done some incredible work at Jupiter that’s allowed scientists to learn a lot more about its complex interior whose origin is difficult to understand.
“Juno has provided a complete overhaul of our understanding of Jupiter,” said Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University and co-investigator on the Juno mission. “It has remarkable storms and atmospheric circulations and an intricate magnetic field.”
Now in its extended mission, the bus-sized spacecraft has had a slight adjustment to its orbital period.
“Its basic elliptical orbit has been maintained and its close approach point to Jupiter has been migrating slowly northward,” said Lunine. “One of the key goals for Juno at Jupiter is to get very close observations of the planet’s higher latitudes, which look very different from the lower latitudes.”
Although one of these image does include Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io, next month we’ll get to see some close-ups of Europa, the fourth-largest moon of Jupiter.
On September 29, 2022 it will get to just 221 miles/355 kilometers) above Europa’s surface just before its 45th perijove. Juno last made a distant encounter with Jupiter’s moon Europa in October 2021.
Those images should be stunning. Europa looks like a veiny eyeball moon because of the fractures in its icy surface. It’s got a thin oxygen-rich atmosphere, a layered inner structure including a liquid iron core and a magnetic field.
Below its 11 mile/18 kilometer thick crust of ice there’s thought to be a global ocean of water. It’s therefore a top target for NASA and others in their search for life off-Earth alongside Enceladus at Saturn.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that two spacecraft—NASA’s Europa Clipper and the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE)—are due to visit the moon in the early 2030s in the wake of Juno’s mission.
Juno’s other remaining close flybys of Jupiter’s moons include the planet’s volcanic moon Io on both December 30, 2023 and February 3, 2024.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.