NASA this week unveiled a trove of new data from its Juno mission, and the pictures are absolutely stunning.
The enhanced images, taken from an altitude of 32,000 miles, portray a monstrously complex planet that features cyclones up to several hundred miles in diameter, along with storm systems that NASA says travel deep into Jupiter’s heart.
“We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator. “But now that we are here we are finding that Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders. There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.”
One of the “curves” Bolton is referring to is the “Earth-sized” cyclones found in Jupiter’s poles.
“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,” Bolton added. “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, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”
Scientists originally assumed Jupiter’s poles would be boring and uneventful. But, as the new data proves, they’re anything but.
Juno arrived at Jupiter’s orbit last summer, where it made its first pass in August, flying as close as 2,600 miles above the planet’s cloud tops. The spacecraft makes a close approach every 53 days, starting at Jupiter’s north pole and flying south, which takes about two hours. The next big flyby will occur on July 11.
“If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it’s Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments,” Bolton said.