NASA’s Juno spacecraft has completed its first flyby around Jupiter with its instruments switched on — and it sent us back the very first up close images of the gas giant’s north pole. The high-resolution photos are stunning, and are already revealing storms and weather activity that scientists had never seen before.
During the flyby, which was completed on August 27th, the probe came about 2,500 miles above the planet, with its eight science instruments switched on. It took one and a half days to download all the data Juno sent back from its 6-hour transit from Jupiter’s north pole to the south pole.
"First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before," Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, wrote in a statement. "It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms."
The clouds also appear to have shadows, Bolton said, which means that they are at higher altitudes than other features.
Many of the photos were taken by the JunoCam, the probe’s onboard camera. But some incredible images of the north and south poles were also snapped in infrared wavelengths by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM). That allows the instrument to capture light emitted by excited hydrogen ions at the poles.
"JIRAM is getting under Jupiter’s skin, giving us our first infrared close-ups of the planet," Alberto Adriani, JIRAM co-investigator from Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali, in Rome, said in a statement. "These first infrared views of Jupiter’s north and south poles are revealing warm and hot spots that have never been seen before."
Thanks to JIRAM, scientists were able to see Jupiter’s southern aurora for the first time. Another instrument on the probe, the Radio/Plasma Wave Experiment (Waves), also recorded eerie radio transmissions coming from the planet. These signals have been known since the 1950s, according to NASA, but this is the first time we can listen up close to the gas giant’s sounds.
The Juno spacecraft launched on August 5th, 2011 and entered orbit on July 4th of this year, after having traveled across more than 1.7 billion miles of space. Juno is flying closer to the gas giant than any other spacecraft and it will study the planet’s magnetic fields, atmosphere, and gravity. In the process, it’ll send us back many more amazing pictures to enjoy.