NASA’s Juno spacecraft has sent back images of Jupiter that reveal the solar system’s largest planet looking very different in some respects than had been expected.
The very closest images proved visually blank, as the probe happened to find itself over what looked like a vast featureless fog bank at that point on August 27, but as it arced lower toward Jupiter’s equatorial zones it captured intricate atmospheric features unlike anything that had been envisaged.
The processed images from the first of many close encounters with Jupiter are only now being posted, a function in part of the necessarily slow data transfer rates achievable over the immense distances involved.
NASA has posted a bulletin which says in part:
“First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “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.”
Fuller details can be found here.
Juno carries much more than visual wavelength cameras, and will make 36 pole to pole orbits of Jupiter than will seek to reveal how the massive planet’s internal structures and processes work.
If the first photos are indicative, Juno will be a major advance in the exploration of the solar system and deliver many surprises.
NASA’s media division has also, at last, recognised the achievements and history of its Galileo mission which reached Jupiter in 1995 by not repeating earlier factually incorrect claims that Juno was making the closest ever approach to the giant planet. In fact the purpose built Galileo descent probe plunged below the height of the outer cloud deck and data from its instruments was received for 57 minutes before the connection was lost.
Unlike the Galileo orbiter, which did send back panoramic images of Jupiter and some of its moons, the Galileo probe carried no cameras but recorded fierce turbulence as it descended toward the lower, denser and hotter layers of the Jovian atmosphere, where it would have eventually been crushed and melted.