Today after almost 11 months in orbit the Juno team revealed the first scientific findings of the mission to the public via a NASA teleconference, giving us our first peek at the inner workings of Jupiter and how much of a surprise our Solar System’s largest planet is proving to be…which of course is quite fitting, as the spacecraft is named after the wife of Jupiter who could see through her mischievous husband’s veiling clouds.
“The new science results from Juno really are our first look close-up at how Jupiter works,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator for the Juno mission. “For the first time we’re looking inside of Jupiter at the interior, and what we’re seeing is it doesn’t look at all like what we predicted.”
With Juno’s high-flying, 53-day-long polar orbits we’re getting our best looks ever at the planet’s north and south poles…and with their clusters of enormous cyclones and deep blue and green clouds they’re not only like nothing else we’ve seen but also remarkably different from each other.
“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 Bolton. “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?”
One of the fascinating pieces of data presented during the teleconference was the image below, showing Jupiter’s main ring against a background of stars—which just happens to be the upper half of the well-known constellation Orion. The bright star in the center is Betelgeuse, Orion’s right shoulder. It’s the first time Jupiter’s ring has ever been imaged from inside the system, looking outward!
What’s more, Juno co-investigator Candy Hansen specifically mentioned the importance of amateur image processors to the mission and for public outreach. In many cases the most stunning images from Juno are ones that have been post-processed by amateurs on their own time, like the one at the top of this post which was worked on by Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran. Roman Tkachenko has also done some fantastic work.
“We have a tiny ops team and the contributions of the amateurs are essential…we don’t have a big image processing team,” Hansen said.
The raw image data that arrives from Juno is considerably more difficult to work with than those from many other missions, notably because of how JunoCam acquires images. Processors often have to write their own scripts to manage the raw files and extract detail…it’s certainly not easy.
You can find more publicly-processed Juno images on the JunoCam site here. (I even have a couple in there myself!)
NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft launched aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral on August 5, 2011. After traveling five years and 1.7 billion miles Juno arrived in orbit at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. The next science flyby will occur on July 11, when Juno will get some close-up views of the famous Great Red Spot.