This image of Jupiter's Great Red Spot was created by Gerald Eichstadt and Sean Doran using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA's Juno spacecraft. The Great Red Spot is a swirling storm, centuries old and wider than the diameter of Earth. Juno used multiple instruments to study the Great Red Spot when it flew over the feature for about 12 minutes as the spacecraft performed its close flyby. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 5600 miles (9000 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet. (Image Credit: NASA, SwRI, MSSS, Gerald Eichstädt, Sean Doran)
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NASA's Juno mission completed a close flyby of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot on July 10, 2017, during its sixth science orbit. Just days after celebrating its first anniversary in Jupiter orbit, the Juno spacecraft flew directly over the planet's Great Red Spot, the gas giant's iconic, 10,000 mile wide (16,000 kilometer wide) storm. This was humanity's first up-close view of the gigantic feature -- a storm monitored by astronomers since 1830, and possibly existing for centuries before that.
"Jupiter's mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best known feature of Jupiter," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas. "This monumental storm has raged on the solar system's biggest planet for centuries. Now, Juno and her cloud penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special."
On July 4th, Juno logged exactly one year in Jupiter orbit. At that time, the spacecraft chalked up about 71 million miles (114.5 million kilometers) in orbit around the giant planet.
"The success of science collection at Jupiter is a testament to the dedication, creativity and technical abilities of the NASA Juno team," said Rick Nybakken, project manager for Juno from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Each new orbit brings us closer to the heart of Jupiter's radiation belt, but so far the spacecraft has weathered the storm of electrons surrounding Jupiter better than we could have ever imagined."
Juno launched on August 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet's cloud tops -- as close as about 2100 miles (3400 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere.
Early science results from NASA's Juno mission portray the largest planet in our solar system as a turbulent world, with an intriguingly complex interior structure, energetic polar aurora, and huge polar cyclones.
All of Juno's science instruments and the spacecraft's JunoCam were operating during the flyby, collecting data that is now being returned to Earth. Juno's next close flyby of Jupiter will occur on September 1st.
"For generations people from all over the world and all walks of life have marveled over the Great Red Spot," said Scott Bolton. "Now we are finally going to see what this storm looks like up close and personal."
The Great Red Spot has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking.
Juno reached "perijove" (the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter's center) on July 10th at 9:55 PM EDT). At the time of perijove, Juno was about 2200 miles (3500 kilometers) above the planet's cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno had covered another 24,713 miles (39,771 kilometers), and was passing directly above the coiling crimson cloud tops of the Great Red Spot. The spacecraft passed about 5600 miles (9000 kilometers) above the clouds of this iconic feature.
The images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot reveal a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval. The JunoCam imager aboard NASA's Juno mission snapped images of this most iconic feature of the solar system's largest planet during its Monday (July 10th) flyby. The images of the Great Red Spot were downlinked from the spacecraft's memory on Tuesday and placed on the mission's JunoCam website by Wednesday morning.
"For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering, and theorizing about Jupiter's Great Red Spot," said Scott Bolton. "Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyze all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno's eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present, and future of the Great Red Spot."
As planned by the Juno team, citizen scientists took the raw images of the flyby from the JunoCam site and processed them, providing a higher level of detail than available in their raw form. The citizen scientist images, as well as the raw images they used for image processing, can be found at the link below.
"I have been following the Juno mission since it launched," said Jason Major, a JunoCam citizen scientist and a graphic designer from Warwick, Rhode Island. "It is always exciting to see these new raw images of Jupiter as they arrive. But it is even more thrilling to take the raw images and turn them into something that people can appreciate. That is what I live for."
"These highly anticipated images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot are the "perfect storm" of art and science. With data from Voyager, Galileo, New Horizons, Hubble, and now Juno, we have a better understanding of the composition and evolution of this iconic feature," said Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science. "We are pleased to share the beauty and excitement of space science with everyone."
JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.
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