Thanks to NASA’s Juno spacecraft we now have our best views yet of the north pole of our Solar System’s largest planet and they’re “hardly recognizable as Jupiter” according to the mission’s lead scientist!
“First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” said SwRI’s Scott Bolton, principal investigator of the Juno mission. “It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms. There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to—this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter. We’re seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.”
We are used to seeing views of Jupiter’s equatorial and mid-latitudes, which are dominated by large red, brown, and white cloud belts and associated eddies. But Jupiter’s north pole lacks those large jet stream features—and apparently does not have a polar hexagon like Saturn’s—instead being speckled by seemingly random swirling storm clouds in a blue-tinted sky.
The image above was acquired by the spacecraft’s JunoCam instrument on August 27, 2016, as Juno was making its first on-orbit close “perijove” pass over the giant planet. Juno came within about 2,500 miles (4,100 km) at 12:53 UTC on Aug. 27; this image was captured from about 120,000 miles (195,000 km) away.
A view of the polar region from even closer can be seen below, made from images acquired from 48,000 miles (78,000 km) away. It shows just streams, cloud shadowing, and “storm systems and weather activity unlike anything encountered in the solar system.”
It took several days to downlink all of the data from the Aug. 27 perijove and mission scientists are still going through it all, but it’s already clear that we are going to be getting unprecedented views of Jupiter.
“We are in an orbit nobody has ever been in before, and these images give us a whole new perspective on this gas-giant world,” Bolton said.
The first-ever images of Jupiter’s north pole were taken by NASA’s Pioneer 11 spacecraft, which performed a flyby in late 1974.
Juno was launched on Aug. 5, 2011 aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS. It arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Currently in its second 54-day-long orbit Juno will drop down to 14-day polar orbits beginning in October, gathering detailed information about Jupiter’s atmosphere, internal composition, and magnetic field. Learn more about the Juno mission here.
UPDATE: I played around with the top image in Photoshop to remove some of the distracting tonal bands and image noise, resulting in the perhaps not-as-accurate but more aesthetic (IMHO) version below. Feel free to share!