The Juno mission is nearing its primary mission conclusion and is continuing to deliver the most spectacular images of Jupiter. The latest set gives a birdseye view of the iconic Great Red Spot, the gigantic anticyclonic storm located 22 degrees south of the planet’s equator.
The image was snapped during Juno's latest close flyby on April 1. This is the 12th flyby since the NASA probe first reached Jupiter in July 2016. The image was taken when Juno was between 24,749 and 49,299 kilometers (15,379 and 30,633 miles) from the tops of the planet's clouds. The probe was flying at a latitude of somewhere between 43.2 and 62.1 degrees south.
Juno’s images are uploaded raw to a website where members of the public can look at them and even process the images. The latest image was processed by two citizen scientists, Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran, and shows the Great Red Spot surrounded by the many turbulent flows that shape the gas giant's cloud cover.
The Great Red Spot has been seen “blotching” Jupiter since 1830 and may have existed since at least 1665, although some think a different storm might have been witnessed at the beginning of modern astronomy. It is over 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) across, which is about 1.3 times the size of the Earth.
The storm has managed to survive for decades as Jupiter lacks a solid surface. This means there's little to reduce the angular momentum of the system. That said, the storm has shrunk significantly in the last 100 years. It is unknown if the storm will continue to shrink until it dissipates or if this is a normal fluctuation. Storms like these are common in gas giants but we are yet to understand the mechanism behind them. Hopefully, Juno will help with that.
The spacecraft's role is to understand the gravitational and magnetic fields of the planet and map the variation in atmospheric composition, temperature, and structure, peering through the clouds like the mythical goddess from which it gets its name. Juno’s primary mission will end with its 14th orbit on July 16. NASA will then have to decide whether to extend the mission or launch Juno into Jupiter where it will disintegrate.