Ganymede in Infrared Taken During Juno’s Most Recent Flyby

Infrared view of Jupiter’s icy moon Ganymede was obtained by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

On July 20th, 2021, NASA’s Juno spacecraft conducted a flyby of Jupiter’s (and the Solar System’s) largest moon, Ganymede. This close pass was performed as part of the orbiter’s thirty-fourth orbit of the gas giant (Perijove 34), which saw the probe come within 50,109 km (31,136 mi) of the moon’s surface. The mission team took this opportunity to capture images of Ganymede’s using Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM).

These were combined with images acquired during two previous flybys to create a new infrared map of Ganymede’s surface, which was released in honor of the mission’s tenth anniversary (which launched from Earth on Aug. 5th, 2011). This map and the JIRAM instrument could provide new information on Ganymede’s icy shell and the composition of its interior ocean, which could shed led on whether or not it could support life.

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Juno Captured This Image of Earth on its Way Out to Jupiter Back in 2013

Earth as seen by the JUNO spacecraft in 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill.

Since the Juno spacecraft has been in orbit around Jupiter for nearly five years — since July 4, 2016 — you may have forgotten about that time back in 2013 Juno flew past Earth. The spacecraft needed a little extra boost to reach Jupiter, so it used Earth for a gravity assist. Image editor Kevin Gill reminded us of that flyby with some stunning newly processed images of Earth, taken by the JunoCam, the “citizen science” camera on board. Pale blue dot indeed!

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Finally! New Pictures of Ganymede, Thanks to Juno

Ganymede seen by JunoCam. The image is derived from a raw PJ34 JunoCam image, decompanded and stretched in a linear way in order to remove dark and to improve contrast moderately. Credit : NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt.

Well, hello there old friend! This week the Juno mission to the Jupiter system made the first close flyby of Jupiter’s giant moon Ganymede, and as you might guess, the images are spectacular. This is the first time we’ve seen a close-up view of the Solar System’s largest moon since the Galileo mission 20 years ago. Voyager gave us the first views of Ganymede 40 years ago.  Now, planetary scientists will be able observe any changes in Ganymede’s surface over time.

But first, the image editing gurus back on Earth are having a go at the raw images sent back by Juno. Our lead image comes from Gerald Eichstädt, who worked his magic to bring out the details of Ganymede, and it’s a stunner.

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Stare Straight Down Into a Giant Storm on Jupiter

A view from the Juno spacecraft of a giant storm on Jupiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

A new batch of images recently arrived at Earth from JunoCam, the visible light camera on board the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter. The camera has provided stunning views of the gas giant world since the spacecraft’s arrival in 2016. Citizen scientists and imaging enthusiasts act as the camera’s virtual imaging team, participating in key steps of the process by making suggestions of areas on Jupiter to take pictures and doing the image editing work.

This lead image, edited by Kevin Gill, is another stunner: a look straight down into a giant storm.

And we like Kevin’s attitude about this whole process:

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With its New Extension, Juno is Going to be Visiting Jupiter’s Moons

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Juno mission to Jupiter has been extended to September 2025 – or however long the spacecraft can keep operating around Jupiter.

While Juno has so far focused its attention on the giant planet alone, the mission extension will include observations of Jupiter’s rings and large moons, with targeted observations and close flybys planned of the moons Ganymede, Europa, and Io.

This will be the first close flybys of these moons since the Galileo mission in 1995-2003.

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Are the Clouds of Jupiter Haunted?

Artist illustration shows what a sprite could look like in Jupiter's atmosphere. Named after a mischievous, quick-witted character in English folklore, sprites last for only a few milliseconds. They feature a central blob of light with long tendrils of light extending down toward the ground and upward. In Earth's upper atmosphere, their interaction with nitrogen give sprites a reddish hue. At Jupiter, where the predominance of hydrogen in the upper atmosphere would likely give them a blue hue. Image Description/Credit NASA

Are spirits amongst the clouds of Jupiter? The answer might be yes! A recent publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets has identified what appear to be “Sprites” in the Jovian Atmosphere.

In European Folklore, ‘Sprites’ (derived from Latin ‘spiritus’ or spirit) were elemental and ethereal beings visiting Earth. The term is fitting for “lightning sprites”, a natural meteorological phenomenon with many eye-witness testimonies but not captured on camera until 1989. Created by lightning discharges in Earth’s atmosphere, sprites are part of larger family of phenomena called TLE’s, or “Transient Luminous Events”, that last for only fractions of a second.

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Simulation Helps Explain Saturn’s Mysterious Hexagon

The smaller storms on Saturn interact with the larger system and as a result effectively pinch the eastern jet and confine it to the top of the planet. The pinching process warps the stream into a hexagon. Credit: Jeremy Bloxham and Rakesh K. Yadav

A new study of the mysterious hexagon-shaped storm at Saturn’s north pole suggests this phenomenon is actually the result of activity occurring across the entire planet.

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See a 360 Degree Juno-Eye View of Jupiter During an Io Eclipse

Io Eclipse on Jupiter from Juno Perijove 22 - NASA/JPL/Kevin Gill

Yesterday, we posted some incredible photos from the Juno Probe’s 29th flyby of Jupiter. Juno is in a highly elliptical orbit. It buzzes the planet at an altitude of 4,200km and then sweeps out to 8.1 million. Completing this circuit every 53 days, Juno only spends 2 hours within close proximity to Jupiter reducing the probe’s exposure to harmful radiation of high energy particles accelerated by Jupiter’s magnetic field.

Io Eclipse on Jupiter from Juno Perijove 22 – NASA/JPL/Kevin Gill
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Here’s Jupiter from Juno’s Latest Flyby

Jupiter from Juno Perijove 29 - NASA/JPL/Kevin Gil

Jupiter.

Most massive planet in the solar system – twice that of all the other planets combined. This giant world formed from the same cloud of dust and gas that became our Sun and the rest of the planets. But Jupiter was the first-born of our planetary family. As the first planet, Jupiter’s massive gravitational field likely shaped the rest of the entire solar system. Jupiter could’ve played a role in where all the planets aligned in their orbits around the Sun…or didn’t as the asteroid belt is a vast region which could’ve been occupied by another planet were it not for Jupiter’s gravity.  Gas giants like Jupiter can also hurl entire planets out of their solar systems, or themselves spiral into their stars. Saturn’s formation several million years later probably spared Jupiter this fate. Jupiter may also act as a “comet catcher.” Comets and asteroids which could otherwise fall toward the inner solar system and strike the rocky worlds like Earth are captured by Jupiter’s gravitational field instead and ultimately plunge into Jupiter’s clouds. But at other times in Earth’s history, Jupiter may have had the opposite effect, hurling asteroids in our direction – typically a bad thing but may have also resulted in water-rich rocks coming to Earth that led to the blue planet we know of today.

Early solar system and protoplanetary disk with a young Jupiter – c. NASA
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Juno Captures Pictures of Ganymede for the First Time

On July 5, 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft arrived around Jupiter, becoming the second mission in history to study the gas giant from orbit – the last being the Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. Since then, the spacecraft has gathered data on Jupiter’s atmosphere, composition, gravity field, and magnetic field in the hopes of learning more about how the planet formed and evolved.

In addition, the spacecraft has gathered some of the most breathtaking images ever taken of Jupiter and its system of moons. In fact, as the spacecraft was making another approach towards Jupiter on December 26th, 2019, it managed to capture the first infrared images of the moon Ganymede’s northern polar region. These images will inform future missions to this satellite, which could host life beneath its icy mantle.

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