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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
This view always gets me *right there.* But this new version really gets me.
This is what Apollo 17 astronauts saw in December of 1972 as they came around the farside of the Moon: the blue and white crescent Earth rising above the stark lunar horizon. And now image editing guru Kevin Gill has sharpened the image, giving it more texture, color and contrast. I can imagine this sharp, spectacular view must be close to what the astronauts saw with their own eyes.
“There I was, and there you are, the Earth – dynamic, overwhelming…” said Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan.
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.
Image-processor extraordinaire Kevin Gill has reached back in time to give us a new image of Neptune and its moon Triton.
When NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Neptune and Triton in August 1989, its cameras were very busy. Kevin has taken separate color-filtered images from that visit and calibrated and combined them to give us a new, almost haunting look at the planet and its largest moon.
For fans and enthusiasts of space exploration, the name Kevin Gill ought to be a familiar one. As a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who specializes in data visualization and analysis, he has a long history of bringing space exploration to life through imagery. Among his most recent offerings is a very interesting pic taken by the Curiosity rover early in its mission.