Friday 9 December 2016

'Like nothing we have seen or imagined before' - NASA spacecraft beams back incredible images of Jupiter

Published 03/09/2016 | 07:45

Infrared image provided by NASA shows the southern aurora of Jupiter, captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft. The phenomenon can hardly be seen from Earth due to the position of the two planets. The image is a mosaic of three photographs made as the spacecraft was moving away from the gas giant
Infrared image provided by NASA shows the southern aurora of Jupiter, captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft. The phenomenon can hardly be seen from Earth due to the position of the two planets. The image is a mosaic of three photographs made as the spacecraft was moving away from the gas giant

A Nasa spacecraft has captured the best views of Jupiter yet, revealing turbulent storms in the north pole.

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Jupiter's northern polar region is stormier than expected and appears bluer than the rest of the planet, said mission chief scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

"This image is hardly recognisable as Jupiter," he said.

Nasa released a batch of close-up pictures taken by the Juno spacecraft last week when it flew within 2,500 miles of Jupiter's dense cloud tops.

This Aug. 27, 2016 image provided by NASA shows Jupiter's north polar region, taken by the Juno spacecraft 120,000 miles (195,000 kilometers) away from the planet
This Aug. 27, 2016 image provided by NASA shows Jupiter's north polar region, taken by the Juno spacecraft 120,000 miles (195,000 kilometers) away from the planet
The JunoCam instrument captured this image with its red spectral filter when the spacecraft was about 23,600 miles (38,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops

During the rendezvous that took Juno from pole to pole, the solar-powered spacecraft turned on its camera and instruments to collect data.

The first glimpse of Jupiter's poles came in 1974 when Pioneer 11 flew by on its way to Saturn.

The JunoCam instrument took the images to create this color view on August 27, when the spacecraft was about 48,000 miles (78,000 kilometers) above the polar cloud tops
The JunoCam instrument took the images to create this color view on August 27, when the spacecraft was about 48,000 miles (78,000 kilometers) above the polar cloud tops

Mr Bolton said the detailed pictures taken by Juno look "like nothing we have seen or imagined before".

Juno also sent back unique views of Jupiter's bright southern lights considered the most powerful in the solar system.

The JunoCam instrument acquired the view on August 27, 2016, when the spacecraft was about 58,700 miles (94,500 kilometers) above the polar region. At this point, the spacecraft was about an hour past its closest approach, and fine detail in the south polar region is clearly resolved
The JunoCam instrument acquired the view on August 27, 2016, when the spacecraft was about 58,700 miles (94,500 kilometers) above the polar region. At this point, the spacecraft was about an hour past its closest approach, and fine detail in the south polar region is clearly resolved

The flyby was the first of three dozen planned close passes during the 20-month mission.

Unlike rocky Earth and Mars, Jupiter is a gas giant that likely formed first, shortly after the sun. Studying the largest planet in the solar system may hold clues to understanding how Earth and the rest of the planets formed.

After a five-year journey, Juno slipped into orbit around Jupiter in July to map the massive planet's poles, atmosphere and interior.

It is the first spacecraft to carry a titanium vault designed to shield its computer and electronics from intense radiation.

Juno is only the second mission to orbit Jupiter. When it completes its job in 2018, it will deliberately crash into Jupiter's atmosphere and disintegrate.

Nasa planned the finale so that Juno will not accidentally smash into Jupiter's moons, particularly the icy moon Europa, a target of future exploration.

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