Last Monday, July 10, NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew directly over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot for the first time, providing the closest views ever of this gigantic storm system which is much larger than Earth in size. While the science data collected has been streaming back to Earth, what most people have been waiting for of course are the images. The first ones had been expected around Friday this week, but they actually became available today – and as anticipated, they are fantastic!
The Great Red Spot has been observed in Jupiter’s atmosphere for centuries and even though it has been gradually shrinking, it still stands out starkly against the other clouds formations at 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) wide.
“For generations people from all over the world and all walks of life have marveled over the Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we are finally going to see what this storm looks like up close and personal.”
“Jupiter’s mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter,” added Bolton. “This monumental storm has raged on the solar system’s biggest planet for centuries. Now, Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special.”
The new images are the closest-ever views of this phenomenon, showing fine detail in the swirls and eddies within the spot. The flyover of the spot was part of Juno’s sixth close flyby of Jupiter, and at its closest, Juno flew only 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the Great Red Spot cloud tops.
“The success of science collection at Jupiter is a testament to the dedication, creativity and technical abilities of the NASA-Juno team,” said Rick Nybakken, project manager for Juno from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Each new orbit brings us closer to the heart of Jupiter’s radiation belt, but so far the spacecraft has weathered the storm of electrons surrounding Jupiter better than we could have ever imagined.”
More stunning images should be released in the coming days, so stay tuned!
More information about the Juno mission is available here.