Fascinating new footage captured by the Juno spacecraft lets you "dive into Jupiter’s clouds."
During NASA’s Juno mission’s 41st close flyby of Jupiter on April 9, 2022, the JunoCam instrument captured what it would be like to accompany the spacecraft in its journey around the Gas Giant. Based on raw JunoCam image data, Andrea Luck created this animated sequence.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, with a diameter of about 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers). Jupiter’s colorful cloud tops were just 2.050 miles (3,300 kilometers) away from Juno’s point of closest approach on April 9. At the time, it was traveling at about 131,000 miles per hour (210,000 kilometers per hour) in relation to the planet.
Juno traveled at a speed about five times faster than the Apollo missions did when they left Earth for the Moon at Juno’s closest approach, which is more than ten times closer to Jupiter than satellites in geosynchronous orbit are to Earth.
Because Jupiter is the most massive planet orbiting the Sun, it has profoundly influenced the solar system. Yet, its origin is still a deep mystery.
In order to understand how Jupiter formed and how it has evolved, Juno studies Jupiter’s magnetic and gravitational fields, its vast magnetosphere, its auroras, and the swirling clouds that make up Jupiter’s colorful atmosphere. As part of its mission, the spacecraft will reveal what Jupiter is made of – and how much of it is water.
As Jupiter is mostly made of hydrogen and helium, it probably formed relatively soon after the Sun. Jupiter is likely the first planet to form. During the first few million years of a star’s life, wind is generated that blows most of the gases that remain in the original nebula away. Jupiter’s composition is mainly hydrogen and helium, so it formed when there was plenty of hydrogen and helium around when the solar system was still young.
Because Jupiter is largely composed of the same materials as the original nebula and its immense mass prevents even light elements from leaving its atmosphere, it holds clues about the solar system’s origin. By studying Jupiter, which is the nearest giant planet, we can also learn more about planetary systems orbiting other stars.
Observations from Juno portray the planet as a complex world with polar cyclones the size of Earth, storm systems that plummet deep into the heart of the gas giant, and a huge, lumpy magnetic field produced closer to the surface than previously believed.
Juno launched on August 5, 2011. Launched on an Atlas V rocket, it lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Before arriving at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, the spacecraft traveled about 3 billion kilometers (nearly 2 billion miles).
In just five years, the Juno mission has shed light on Jupiter’s physical and figurative depths. As a result of the spacecraft’s observations of Jupiter’s violent storms, it seems the planet has a more chaotic and compelling atmosphere than previously thought.
For example, a cluster of cyclones and anticyclones has been detected near Jupiter’s north pole. In fact, Juno has detected “storms the size of Earth” at both poles of Jupiter, according to NASA.
Raw images of JunoCam are available for the public to view and process. You can find them at https://missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/processing/.
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