Latest Juno image shows Jupiter’s cloud tops in intricate detail
Among the most recent JunoCam images released by NASA is an intricate, color-enhanced photo of Jupiter’s cloud tops taken April 1, 2018, that has the appearance of a watercolor painting. A closeup of the northern hemisphere’s swirling blue and purple cloud tops, the image was enhanced for color and contrast by citizen scientist Kevin Gill.
According to NASA, the image of intricate cloud patterns was taken by the JunoCam instrument while the Juno spacecraft was about 7,659 miles (12,326 kilometers) from the tops of Jupiter’s clouds at a northern latitude of 50.2 degrees as the probe was performing its 12th close flyby, or perijove, of the planet.
Images processed by citizen scientists and members of the public for the Juno mission are available on the JunoCam website for viewing. Other website features include a discussion on points of interest about Jupiter’s atmosphere, an opportunity to upload telescopic images of Jupiter and provide input into mission planning, and a chance to vote on points of interest for JunoCam to image in upcoming perijove flybys.
Launched in August 2011, Juno arrived at Jupiter in July 2016 with the goal of probing through the giant planet’s clouds and learning about the planet’s atmosphere, composition, structure, and history.
The missions science goals include determining the amount of water in Jupiter’s atmosphere, measuring the composition and temperature of the planet’s clouds, mapping its magnetic and gravity fields to reveal Jupiter’s deep structure, and studying the magnetosphere near the planet’s poles with a special focus on its auroras.
Juno orbits Jupiter in an elliptical polar orbit, flying close as close as 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers) above the planet every 53 days. Initial plans called for starting with two 53-day orbits before moving to shorter 14-day orbits for the remainder of the mission.
However, after two helium check valves crucial to the probe’s main engine malfunctioned in October 2016, mission scientists decided the shorter orbit was too risky to the spacecraft and instead decided to stay with the longer orbit. That decision enabled the spacecraft to study Jupiter’s magnetosphere and magnetotail so scientists could better understand how both interact with solar wind.
Now six years and eight months into its seven-year mission, Juno will likely be given an extended mission with additional science goals, as is done with many NASA probes.
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.