The Juno spacecraft has been on a long journey, having left Earth in 2011 before finally arriving at Jupiter in July of 2016. Now, nearly a year later, the first science results have been released by NASA.
Juno’s orbit around Jupiter gives us a never before seen view of Jupiter’s poles. The JunoCam captured breathtaking images of Jupiter’s north and south poles. Both poles feature Earth-sized cyclones clustered together and battling one another. Scientists question whether these structures are a constant phenomenon on the planet or if these cyclones are a part of an ever-changing environment. As the spacecraft continues monitoring the poles, they’ll be looking to see if these storms are a permanent fixture or a phase in a developing system.
Juno has also found that the iconic bands that circle the planet are still shrouded in mystery. Some penetrate all the way down while others progress into different structures. Jupiter’s magnetic field has long been seen as the strongest in the solar system. Readings from Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR) indicate that the magnetosphere is even more intense than previous models suggested. It is also very irregular, stronger in some areas and weaker in others.
Nearly a year’s worth of data has confirmed that Jupiter is a mysterious planet, keeping many of its secrets hidden beneath its gaseous surface. Juno keeps a safe distance from Jupiter most of the time. Every 53 days it braves the harsh environment and plunges closer to the planet, collecting vast amounts of data on specific targets. Its next flyby will be over the Great Red Spot, a feature that has been seen from telescopes since the 1600’s. Juno’s instruments will help us better understand this giant storm and hopefully we’ll get an amazing image as well!
The JunoCam has already collected a decent archive of Jupiter images. They are available for download from the Juno mission site here.