The road to Jupiter has been a slightly bumpy one for NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Last July, the nearly 8,000-pound spacecraft entered orbit around the solar system’s biggest planet after five years in space. A planned burn to reduce Juno’s orbital period from 53 days to 14 was put on hold after two helium check valves didn’t operate as mission controllers anticipated.

Originally posted 3/30/2017.

“Juno is healthy, its science instruments are fully operational, and the data and images we’ve received are nothing short of amazing,” said Thomas Zurbuchen last month. He serves as associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

And Zurbuchen’s right.

Images from Juno are handled a little differently compared to missions like New Horizons. The Juno team looks to space fans to process raw images. These amateur astronomers don’t disappoint. Roman Tkachenko’s Twitter account is stuffed with stunning views of Jupiter.

Here’s one of his latest that was featured by NASA.

Juno Jupiter storms

Credit: NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Roman Tkachenko

It’s dubbed the ‘Dark Spot’ and shows what looks like a slew of swirling storms. The image was color-enhanced to tease more details from Jupiter’s chaotic storm clouds. It’s an amazing view of Jupiter’s clouds, but this next one is probably my favorite.

Jupiter Io Europa Juno

Credit: NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Roman Tkachenko

You can see the Great Red Spot peaking over the limb in the top right. Those white dots to the side are a pair of moons – Io and Europa.

Jupiter’s north pole shows the swirling storms of Jupiter are littered everywhere.

Juno Jupiter north pole

Credit: NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Roman Tkachenko

Other people take a more artistic approach to the image processing. Dubbed ‘Mother of Pearls,’ user Gomi-56 used tonal and color adjustments to create this stunning image.

Jupiter Juno Pearls

Credit: Gomi-56

This infographic highlights the different features captured in Juno images.

Jupiter Juno infographic

Credit: NASA / SwRI / MSSS / John Rogers

This splash of colorful Jupiter cloud tops comes from user Palmero-24.

Jupiter Juno color

Credit: Palmero-24

Juno completed its fourth science orbit with a close flyby of Jupiter on Monday. The raw images have been uploaded, and we should see some more images soon.

UPDATE 5/26/2017.

On May 25, Juno’s mission team broke down the first science results from the mighty Jupiter. Our assumptions about the mammoth gas giant are being challenged. Juno’s principal investigator Scott Bolton says it best:

“We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Bolton. “But now that we are here we are finding that Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders. There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.”

Take a look at the south pole. Each bluish oval is a huge cyclone stretching up to 600 miles across.

Jupiter south pole cyclones

Credit: NASA

The north pole is covered in similar cyclones but is different enough to make scientists wonder why. Bolton says, “are we seeing just one stage, and over the next, we’re going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”

The next stunning image won’t blow you away with splashes of color. But it’s just as cool. Take a look at Jupiter’s ring system from the inside.

Jupiter rings

Credit: NASA

Juno’s next flyby is set for July 11. It’ll dip close to Jupiter, swing around, spend just over a day beaming the data back to Earth and set back up for its 53-day trip back around. The next flyby will take Juno directly over one of the famous features in space. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Juno’s instruments will probe deep into the storm to see what’s going on down there.

Original article continues.

Juno’s future

On Monday, Juno soared just 2,700 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops. All eight instruments were on and collected data as it screamed at 129,000 miles per hour past the gas-giant. “Every time we get near Jupiter’s cloud tops, we learn new insights that help us understand this amazing giant planet,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno.

Juno now begins another 53-day elliptical trip around the gas giant. The planned orbit adjustment down to 14 days has been taken off the table completely. Mission controllers would rather make sure Juno stays operational than risk losing the spacecraft if something goes wrong with the burn. And you can’t blame them.

Juno will keep collecting the same quality of science, it just won’t do it as often. Plus, there are advantages to sticking with the 53-day orbit. First, Juno will be able to explore more of Jupiter’s magnetosphere. Second, the Juno mission will likely last much longer than originally thought.

“Another key advantage of the longer orbit is that Juno will spend less time within the strong radiation belts on each orbit,” said Bolton. “This is significant because radiation has been the main life-limiting factor for Juno.”

Right now, Juno has the money to operating through July 2018. It’s just starting its fifth orbit and will conduct 12 science orbits by then. A mission extension proposal can be submitted by the team for more orbits. It’ll be up to NASA to green light the extension.

The first hard science results are expected from peer-reviewed papers in the next few months. These will be from the first Juno flybys. Expect more research in the months and years to come as researchers pour over the data gathered by the spacecraft.

I’ll keep this post updated with more pictures of Jupiter as they are released. Which one is your favorite?


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