True-color. It’s what we call images that show how an object looks to human eyes. NASA loves to slap enhanced color effects on images of other worlds. It’s not just for the added splash of color. It helps tease details that would otherwise be tough to see in true-color.
Me? I want to see another world as if I was hitching a ride on the spacecraft observing it. One citizen scientist puts us in the driver’s seat of NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Björn Jónsson shows Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot as if we were soaring above it ourselves.
The Great Red Spot might be shrinking, but the sheer size of it is still a sight to behold. You could toss Earth inside the monster storm and still have room to spare. As of April, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot measured 10,159 miles wide. That’s more than 4,000 miles smaller than when the Voyager pair measured it at 14,500 miles across.
The slow, steady shrinking is also leading the ancient storm to shed its oval shape for a more circular one. Here’s an image showing Hubble observations spanning from 1995 to 2014.
Not quite a perfect circle, but also not as pronounced of an oval as it once was.
For this newest image, Juno was just 8,648 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops when it snapped this image on July 10.
Stunning images will keep pouring in with each close flyby for as long as possible. The Juno team were preparing for a possible failure of the JunoCam after the eight orbit. But that’s a worst case scenario. Plus, the spacecraft never entered its planned shorter orbital periods. Instead of a 14-day orbit, Juno stayed on its 53-day trip around the gas giant. Which means it’s receiving less of the radiation that will ultimately cause it to stop functioning.
The longer orbit also means Juno could also last much longer than its originally scheduled deorbit in February 2018. The spacecraft should be able to knock out 20 flybys before mid-2019. After that, Juno’s team will run into a problem. By mid-2019, Juno will end up in Jupiter’s shadow for about six hours. For a solar-powered spacecraft, the lack of sunlight poses a big problem.
It’s a problem Juno’s team will tackle as it gets closer. For now, it’s all about gathering as much science and amazing images as possible.