If you think that Saturn’s polar storm systems are amazing then you’re gonna love this: Jupiter has them too, and not just a single central storm over each of its poles either. NASA’s Juno mission has revealed that Jupiter has not only polar vortices but also a ring of enormous cyclones spinning in formation around both of its poles—five around its south pole and a whopping eight around its northern one! Each of these cyclones is gargantuan in its own right, easily big enough to span the Atlantic Ocean, and somehow they all manage to avoid merging with their respective neighbors via some as-yet unknown process. It’s literally like nothing found anywhere else in the Solar System!
Saturn has its rings, Mars has its rusty landscape, Earth has its whales, water, and wi-fi…and Jupiter has its Great Red Spot. The giant gas planet’s enormous orange storm—once over twice the diameter of Earth but today “only” about 1.3 times as wide—is one of the most distinctive planetary features in our Solar System. It’s so well-known that even young children are sure to include its orangey oval when drawing Jupiter!
But as famous as it is, there’s a lot we still don’t know about Jupiter’s giant storm. NASA’s Juno spacecraft, launched in August 2011, has now been orbiting Jupiter since July 4, 2016 and has been using its suite of science instruments to investigate the planet’s complex atmosphere like never before possible. Thanks to Juno, for the first time scientists are able to “see” deep below Jupiter’s dense clouds (in microwave wavelengths, that is) and find out what’s happening inside the GRS. What they’ve discovered is a storm hundreds of miles deep with a hot base that powers its winds.
They’ve arrived! Images from NASA’s Juno spacecraft P7 pass have landed on Earth (a few days early no less) showing Jupiter’s Great Red Spot from the closest distance that it’s ever been imaged before. Captured on the night of July 10 (early July 11 morning UTC) the closest Junocam images were taken from a distance of only about 5,600 miles from the top of the storm’s clouds—that’s less than an Earth diameter away from a hundreds-year-old hurricane an Earth and a half wide!
Today, July 10 (July 11 UTC) NASA’s Juno spacecraft will make its first targeted flyover of Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot since its arrival in orbit on July 4, 2016, getting our best look yet at the giant anticyclonic storm that’s been churning on the giant planet since at least 1830 (and possibly even since before 1665.)
Previous spacecraft (Voyager, Galileo, Cassini, New Horizons) have imaged the Great Red Spot but none from as close a distance as Juno will tonight. During P7—Juno’s seventh “perijove,” or closest point to Jupiter in its 53-day-long orbital path—Juno will pass over the GRS at an altitude of only about 5,600 miles.
Perijove (the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter’s center) will be on Monday, July 10, at 6:55 p.m. PDT (9:55 p.m. EDT). At the time of perijove, Juno will be about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) above the planet’s cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno will have covered another 24,713 miles (39,771 kilometers) and will be directly above the coiling crimson cloud tops of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The spacecraft will pass about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the [Great] Red Spot clouds.
Once the flyover data is transmitted and received on Earth sometime on Friday, July 14 we can expect amateur image processors (myself definitely included!) to feverishly get to work bringing out as many details as possible in the raw data. (You can find raw images from Junocam and processed versions from the public here.) This, as they say, is going to be good!
Source/read more from NASA here: NASA’s Juno Spacecraft to Fly Over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot July 10
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.”