NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which flew over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in its closest encounter with the raging storm, has captured some breath-taking and stunning pictures. The pictures were clicked by NASA’s Juno probe earlier this week. The spacecraft has offered the closest view of the iconic feature of the largest planet of the solar system.
“For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorizing about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we have the best pictures ever.”
The pictures can be viewed at missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/processing. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has been monitored since 1830 and it is a possibility that it existed for more than 350 years. On April 3 this year, it was measured 16,350 kilometers wide, which is 1.3 times the size of the Earth. It has appeared to be shrinking in modern times.
Bolton said scientists are hoping to understand more about what drives the storm. He said analysing the data captured by Juno’s eight instruments as it passed over the tempest a height of 9,000 kilometers will take some time.
Juno began orbiting Jupiter last year, five years after it was launched in 2011. The spacecraft will perform its next scheduled flyby in early September.
“These highly-anticipated images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot are the ‘perfect storm’ of art and science,” said Jim Green, Nasa’s director of planetary science. “We are pleased to share the beauty and excitement of space science with everyone.”
On July 10, NASA’s Juno aircraft reached perijove, the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter’s centre. At that time, it was 3,500 kilometres above the planet’s cloud tops.
After eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, the spacecraft covered another 39,771 kilometres, and passed directly above the coiling crimson cloud tops of the Great Red Spot.
The spacecraft is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter during these flybys. It is also studying its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.