Feast your eyes on this fantastic image of Jupiter, taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft that’s currently in orbit around the gas giant.
Snapped on July 10 by the JunoCam instrument, the image has since been processed by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran. It shows a long-lived anticyclonic oval storm in Jupiter's northern polar region named (this isn’t a typo) North North Temperate Little Red Spot 1 (NN-LRS-1). These storms have winds that flow in the opposite direction to that in a region of low pressure.
NN-LRS-1 is the third largest anticyclonic oval storm on Jupiter, and measures about 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) across. The storm has been tracked since 1993, but it’s possible it might be older than that. For example, the Great Red Spot, Jupiter’s most famous storm, has raged for more than 400 years.
When Juno snapped this image it was about 11,444 kilometers (7,111 miles) from the top of Jupiter’s clouds. The spacecraft is continuing a merry dance around the gas giant, with its elongated 53-day orbit taking it up to 3 million kilometers (2 million miles) away.
Juno has now completed six scientific flybys (and seven overall) of Jupiter, with the most recent coming on July 11. By the time the primary mission ends in July 2018, it will have completed 12 science-gathering flybys. Originally, scientists had hoped to conduct 37 flybys by moving it into a slightly different orbit, but a problem with two valves on the spacecraft has left it stuck in its current orbit.
This may be a blessing in disguise, though, as in this wider orbit Jupiter’s radiation will be less damaging to the spacecraft. This means it may be able to survive beyond its primary mission and conduct additional science that would not have been possible on a shorter orbit.
We’ve learned quite a bit about Jupiter from Juno so far. It’s taught us that the driver of Jupiter’s magnetic field, its dynamo, might not be its core (like Earth), but instead somewhere closer to the “surface”, above a layer of metallic hydrogen.
One of the primary goals of the mission is to actually work out what the interior of Jupiter looks like, by taking gravity measurements. At the moment, we’re still not sure if it has a solid or liquid core.
In the meantime, though, we’ll get plenty more beautiful images from JunoCam. Over at the Juno website, you can have a look through some of the processed and raw images, and you can also vote on what the spacecraft images next. Its seventh scientific flyby will take place in early September.