Juno is sending data from Jupiter back to us, courtesy of the Deep Space Network, and the first images are meeting our hyped-up expectations. On August 27, the Juno spacecraft came within about 4,200 km. (2,500 miles) of Jupiter’s cloud tops. All of Juno’s instruments were active, and along with some high-quality images in visual and infrared, Juno also captured the sound that Jupiter produces.
Juno has captured the first images of Jupiter’s north pole. Beyond their interest as pure, unprecedented eye candy, the images of the pole reveal things never before seen. They show storm activity and weather patterns that are seen nowhere else in our solar system. Even on the other gas giants.
“…like nothing we have seen or imagined before.”
“First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms. There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to — this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter. We’re seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.”
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The visible light images of Jupiter’s north pole are very different from our usual perception of Jupiter. People have been looking at Jupiter for a long time, and the gas giant’s storm bands, and the Great Red Spot, are iconic. But the north polar region looks completely different, with whirling, rotating storms similar to hurricanes here on Earth.
The Junocam instrument is responsible for the visible light pictures of Jupiter that we all enjoy. But the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) is showing us a side of Jupiter that the naked eye will never see.
“JIRAM is getting under Jupiter’s skin, giving us our first infrared close-ups of the planet,” said Alberto Adriani, JIRAM co-investigator from Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali, Rome. “These first infrared views of Jupiter’s north and south poles are revealing warm and hot spots that have never been seen before. And while we knew that the first-ever infrared views of Jupiter’s south pole could reveal the planet’s southern aurora, we were amazed to see it for the first time.”
“No other instruments, both from Earth or space, have been able to see the southern aurora.”
Even when we’re prepared to be amazed by what Juno and other spacecraft show us, we are still amazed. It’s impossible to see Jupiter’s south pole from Earth, so these are everybody’s first glimpses of it.
“No other instruments, both from Earth or space, have been able to see the southern aurora,” said Adriani. “Now, with JIRAM, we see that it appears to be very bright and well-structured. The high level of detail in the images will tell us more about the aurora’s morphology and dynamics.”
Beyond the juicy images of Jupiter are some sound recordings. It’s been known since about the 1950’s that Jupiter is a noisy planet. Now Juno’s Radio/Plasma Wave Experiment (WAVE) has captured a recording of that sound.
“Jupiter is talking to us in a way only gas-giant worlds can,” said Bill Kurth, co-investigator for the Waves instrument from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. “Waves detected the signature emissions of the energetic particles that generate the massive auroras which encircle Jupiter’s north pole. These emissions are the strongest in the solar system. Now we are going to try to figure out where the electrons come from that are generating them.”
Oddly enough, that’s pretty much exactly what I expected Jupiter to sound like. Like something from an early sci-fi film.
There’s much more to come from Juno. These images and recordings of Jupiter are just the result of Juno’s first orbit. There are over 30 more orbits to come, as Juno examines the gas giant as it orbits beneath it.