NASA Spacecraft Juno Sends Back Stunning Images Taken Near Jupiter Cloud Tops
A NASA spacecraft has sent back some truly mesmerising photographs taken breathtakingly close to Jupiter’s cloud tops.
The spacecraft, named Juno, has been orbiting Jupiter since July 5, 2016. The furthest solar-powered spacecraft ever to be sent into space, it is currently 500 million miles away from Earth travelling at speeds of 127,000 mph.
Throughout its four years in orbit, Juno has been carrying out a scientific investigation into Jupiter from an elliptical polar orbit.
This elliptical orbit sees Juno spend most of the time a fair distance away from the gas giant. However, for a short period of time every 53 days, it also allows Juno to get close to Jupiter’s cloud tops, allowing for some truly magnificent imagery.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, and also rotates faster than any other of our neighbouring planets – a full day is completed in just 10 hours.
According to NASA, this rapid rotation leads to the creation of strong jet streams that separate the clouds of Jupiter into ‘bright zones and dark belts’, which then wrap around it.
Juno’s purpose is to study various aspects of Jupiter. This includes research into its composition, gravity field and magnetic field, as well as its 384mph winds and famously powerful storms.
A small camera named the ‘JunoCam’ has been fitted to the craft, largely for the purposes of outreach. Despite having only been made to last a mere eight orbits, it’s still proving to be a tough little gadget.
Following each orbit, data from the JunoCam is downloaded before being given to a team of citizen scientists to work their magic on.
Some volunteers have made use of their extraordinary talents in image processing to produce images that can only be described as true works of art, capturing Jupiter’s colossal jet stream and iconic ‘racing stripes’.
Compared with Earth, Jupiter has some seriously dramatic storms. Thunderheads reach five times higher than those experienced on Earth – approximately 40 miles from base to top – and lightning flashes can be up to three times more energetic than even the biggest ‘superbolts’ witnessed here on Earth.
Much like lightning bolts on our much smaller home planet, Jupiter’s lightning acts like radio transmitters; transmitting radio waves alongside visible light as they bolt across the sky.
Every 53 days, Juno orbits closely over the storm systems, detecting radio signals called ‘sferics’ and ‘whistlers’. These signals may then be used to map lightning, even when it’s daytime on the planet or from deep clouds where lightning flashes are otherwise invisible.
Each time Juno passes, Hubble and Gemini watch on from a distance, taking high-res images of the beautiful planet that have gone on to capture imaginations across the world.
Check out more of Juno’s images in the following NASA gallery.
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