Wow! If you’ve ever wanted to know what it would be like to hang above Jupiter’s clouds, here you go. This absolutely stunning view of Jupiter’s northern latitudes shows incredible detail of gas giant’s swirling cloudtops. And it features, in the lower left in the image below, the storm on the gas planet known as NN-LRS-1, or more colloquially, the Little Red Spot.
Juno’s JunoCam, a visible light camera, is able to get never-before-seen images like this because it is doing something that no other mission to Jupiter has done.
“The spacecraft’s proximity to Jupiter is very unusual,” Rick Nybakken told me during an interview at JPL last year. Nybakken is Juno’s project manager. “Juno has an elliptical orbit that brings it just 3,107 miles (5,000 km) above the cloud tops. No other mission has been this close, and we’re right on top of Jupiter so to speak.”
Special instruments are studying Jupiter’s radiation belt and magnetosphere, its interior structure, and the turbulent atmosphere, as well as providing views of the planet with spectacular, close-up images.
And another great thing about this image is that it was processed by citizen scientists. Gerald Eichstaedt and John Rogers processed the image and drafted the caption, and this will be the norm for many of the JunoCam images, because it’s “the public’s camera.”
“I’m excited though for what we’re doing with the visible light camera,” said Juno Project Scientist Steve Levin, who I also interviewed at JPL. “We’re making JunoCam as much as much as we possibly can an instrument that belongs to the public. We’ll solicit the aid of the public in picking which images to take, and releasing the data in its rawest form, and allow people to go and make the images.”
Scientist Candy Hansen is leading this citizen science effort, and she uses the phrase, “science in a fishbowl,” meaning the JunoCam team is showing people what it is like to do science by allowing anyone to participate and see the data as it arrives from Juno.
You can find the raw images here, so go ahead and test out your image processing skills.
JunoCam is designed to capture remarkable pictures of Jupiter’s poles and cloud tops. Although its images will be helpful to the science team to help provide context for the spacecraft’s other instruments, it is not considered one of the mission’s science instruments. JunoCam was included on the spacecraft specifically for purposes of engaging and including the public.
The Little Red Spot is the third largest anticyclonic oval on the planet, which Earth-based observers have tracked for the last 23 years. An anticyclone is a weather phenomenon with large-scale circulation of winds around a central region of high atmospheric pressure. They rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere, and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere. The Little Red Spot shows very little color these days, just a pale brown smudge in the center. Back in 2006, the storm was stronger and the color changed darker and more red. Now, with the storm not quite as active, the color is very similar to the surroundings, making it difficult to see.
If you’d like to download a larger version of this processed image (need a new wallpaper?) you can find it on NASA’s website.