Dipping as close as 2,500 miles above Jupiter’s clouds, NASA’s Juno spacecraft snapped the first images of the gas giant’s north pole, and some of its best images yet, during a six-hour fly-by on August 27. It took a day and a half for the agency to download the six megabytes of data transmitted back to Earth. It will take more time still to analyze all the information but, over the weekend, the agency released the first set of images.
“First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement. “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.”
Among the remarkable discoveries made by the onboard camera, JunoCam, was a difference between Saturn’s north pole and Jupiter’s. Where Saturn’s pole is accented by a hexagonal formation, Jupiter’s is not.
“The largest planet in our solar system is truly unique,” Bolton said.
JunoCam was just one of the spacecraft’s eight instruments activated during the fly-by. The Jovian Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) caught glimpses of the Jupiter’s poles in infrared.
And the Radio/Plasma Wave Experiment (Waves) recorded the eerie sounds that rose from the planet’s auroras.
“Jupiter is talking to us in a way only gas-giant worlds can,” said Bill Kurth, co-investigator for the Waves instrument from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. “Waves detected the signature emissions of the energetic particles that generate the massive auroras which encircle Jupiter’s north pole. These emissions are the strongest in the solar system. Now we are going to try to figure out where the electrons come from that are generating them.”
Juno has 35 more fly-bys scheduled for the next 20 months, before the probe dives to its demise in Jupiter’s clouds.