This was Juno’s View on its 37th Flight Past Jupiter

Jupiter, as seen from Juno during its 37th pass over Jupiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

As originally planned, Juno’s 37th close pass by Jupiter – called Perijove 37 – would have been its last. Per the original mission outline, the Juno spacecraft would have been programed to plunge into Jupiter on Perijove 37 as a mission-ending self-sacrifice. Destroying Juno would protect the Jovian moons — especially Europa — from potential future contamination by an unpowered spacecraft wandering adrift through the Jupiter system. As careful as NASA is about taking precautions to limit the amount of Earth-sourced biological material carried by robotic spacecraft, it’s incredibly difficult to ensure that no microbes might have tagged along.

But, back to Juno: as it stands now, the Juno mission is just getting started. With a mission extension granted earlier this year, Juno will continue to operate until at least 2025, with 42 extra orbits added to the mission.

And thank goodness, because the images from Perijove 37 are pretty stunning. The new mission plan put Juno on a relatively close pass to image Jupiter itself, as well as a great view of Jupiter’s moon Europa, see below.

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Juno Peers Beneath Jupiter’s Clouds to Reveal its Complex Atmosphere

Many papers are usually released at once for big space exploration missions. Usually, that happens when an entire batch of data has been analyzed.  The most recent set of papers is from Juno’s explorations of Jupiter’s atmosphere.  With this data dump, scientists now have the first 3D map of the atmosphere of the solar system’s largest planet.

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With no Solid Surface, the Atmosphere of Jupiter Behaves Quite Differently Than Earth

Jupiter’s atmosphere has plenty of distinct features, including lightning and the Great Red Spot.  But the underlying processes that drive these features are less well understood, as the physics of the gases that make up Jupiter’s atmosphere is complicated.  A team of scientists from all over the globe has found a familiar process in all the chaos, though.  They think a process that happens here on Earth might be happening on a grander scale at Jupiter.

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Wind Speeds in Jupiter’s Great Red Spot are Picking up

Jupiter's Great Red Spot Region
Jupiter's Great Red Spot Region

The Great Red Spot of Jupiter – the largest storm in the solar system – has been raging for centuries. Over the past 100 years however, the cyclone has been dwindling, but recent observations with Hubble show that the wind speeds may be picking up again. Is this just temporary, or will the storm return to its former glory?

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NASA Spacecraft Takes a Picture of Jupiter … From the Moon

Jupiter seen from the Moon, as imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera on 20 August 2021. Two of Jupiter's moons, Io and Europa, can just barely be seen here to the right of Jupiter. Scene has been enlarged by a factor of four. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

You know the feeling …. seeing Jupiter through your own telescope. If it gives you the chills — like it does for me — then you’ll know how the team for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter felt when they turned their spacecraft around – yes, the orbiter that’s been faithfully circling and looking down at the Moon since 2008 – and saw the giant planet Jupiter with their camera. If you zoom in on the picture, you can even see Jupiter’s Galilean moons.

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Something big Just hit Jupiter!

In 1994, the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) impacted Jupiter, which had captured the comet shortly before (and broken apart by its gravity). The event became a media circus as it was the first direct observation of an extraterrestrial collision of Solar System objects. The impact was so powerful that it left scars that endured for months and were more discernible than Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

Since then, astronomers have observed multiple objects impacting Jupiter, and it is expected that such impacts happen all the time (though unobserved). On September 13th, 2021, at 22:39:30 UTC (06:39:30 PM EDT; 03:39 PM:30 PDT), another impact was observed by multiple astronomers across the world. Images and a video of the impact (shown below) were captured by members of Société Lorraine d’Astronomie (SLA) in France.

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Here’s What it Would Be Like to Fly Low Over Jupiter’s Cloudtops

Jupiter, via Juno. Picture shows lower elevation and uses standard perspective projection. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

During Juno’s extended mission, every orbit is like a new adventure. Each orbit is a little different, and NASA says the natural evolution of Juno’s orbit around Jupiter provides a wealth of new science opportunities.

But for most of us, what we look forward to on every perijove – the point in each orbit where the Juno spacecraft comes closest to the gas giant – are the incredible images taken by the camera on board, JunoCam. As Juno’s “eyes,” the camera provides a unique vantage point no other spacecraft has been able to give us.

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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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