Six years ago, the Juno satellite was launched into space with Jupiter as its goal. Now it’s sending back incredible images like these — and perhaps raising more questions than providing answers.
Like the image above, for instance, which shows Jupiter’s south pole speckled with (giant) storms.
“We’re puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is, and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn’t look like the south pole,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in May.
“We’re questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we’re going to watch it disappear,” Bolton said, “or is this a stable configuration, and these storms are circulating around one another?”
Juno is orbiting around Jupiter in an oval pattern. The planet is on a far side of the oval, so for most of the time, the satellite is far away from the planet it was sent out to study. It’s necessary, though, to avoid Jupiter’s very strong radiation belts, which could obliterate the multibillion-dollar satellite.
Every 53 days, Juno gets close to the planet to take measurements and snap photos. It takes two hours for the satellite to get from one pole to the other. The next flyover is on July 11 over the iconic “Great Red Spot.”
Until then, we’ll enjoy all of the imagery that NASA and a small army of citizen scientists have downloaded and processed.
The image above is my personal favorite, taken on May 19. The photo is so high-resolution, you can see features that are just 4 miles across!
What’s so excellent about this Jovian image is that you can see the shadow beneath the swirling high clouds if you look along the top. This is a feature we also see on our own Earthian satellites when the sun angle is very low against the clouds.
We typically don’t see vortices in Earth’s weather like the ones shown here on Jupiter. They’re reminiscent of a von Karman vortex street, though, which makes me think there’s something mountainous disrupting the flow of gas. There’s still a lot we don’t know about this gas giant!
This photo was also taken on May 19. NASA calls it Jupiter’s “Little Red Spot.”
The bright spots in the upper half of this image are storms known as the “string of pearls,” as NASA explains:
Each of the alternating light and dark atmospheric bands in this image are wider than Earth, and each rages around Jupiter at hundreds of miles per hour. The lighter areas are regions where gas is rising, and the darker bands are regions where gas is sinking.
Another swirling storm just south of the “string of pearls.”
Check out those little white specks. This image is from the tropical area of Jupiter, which means it’s the area that gets the most solar radiation. These are (probably?) little “thunderstorms” bubbling up in the gas. They look a lot like the overshooting tops we see in thunderstorms on Earth.