Planets

Juno Looks Into a Fierce Jupiter Storm During Dramatic Orbital Dive

Before the NASA spacecraft completed its third close approach of the gas giant on Sunday, its JunoCam snapped a breathtaking view of one of Jupiter's stormy "pearls."

Jupiter's thick atmosphere is filled with mesmerizing atmospheric phenomena. Storms bigger than our planet rage, waves of energy blast through the clouds and turbulence creates a scene that looks more familiar in the mixed watercolors on an artist's palette. Now, with the help of the Juno mission's JunoCam instrument, we've been given a birds-eye (or satellite-eye) view of one of the planet's stunning "pearls" - one of eight bright counterclockwise rotating storms that are currently rumbling in the Jovian southern hemisphere.

On Sunday, Juno successfully completed its third close approach of Jupiter in its highly elongated orbit - a point known as "perijove." Before completing the maneuver at 12:04 p.m. ET, JunoCam was used to watch the finer details of Jupiter's atmosphere pop into view and at 24,600 miles (40,000 kilometers) from Jupiter's atmosphere, this scene was captured.

JunoCam isn't technically a science instrument on the spacecraft, it's actually an outreach project to engage the public in the mission by capturing high-resolution photos of Jupiter for enthusiasts to analyze and process while participating in decisions (via an online vote) of what the camera should focus on next. But just because it's not officially a science instrument, it doesn't mean the camera can't be used for science.

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"The camera is on Juno to do outreach, that was why we put the camera on the [spacecraft] in the first place, but there's no reason we can't learn about Jupiter from looking at the pictures," JunoCam lead scientist Candice Hansen, with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, said during a presentation at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco, where a batch of new images were unveiled.

The focus of this observation is the bright storm near the top of the image. Since 1986 a string of bright storms have persisted in this southern hemisphere region. There are currently eight bright storms, but over the past 30 years, that number has varied between six to nine storms. Observations like these will no doubt add another layer of understanding a to how these storms form and why they vary in number over such a short timescale.

Irene Klotz contributed to this article.

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