When NASA’s Juno spacecraft first flew by the planet Jupiter on Aug. 27, all we got was a fuzzy image of the gas giant from a glancing angle.
But now scientists behind the mission are starting to trickle out high-resolution photos and videos taken during the 130,000-mph manoeuvre (briefly making Juno the fastest human-made object ever launched).
Gaze in awe at this moody, first-ever image of Jupiter’s swirling north pole:
“[I]t looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” Scott Bolton, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and the Juno mission’s leader, said in a NASA statement released Sept. 2.
“It’s bluer in colour 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 recognisable as Jupiter,” Bolton said.
But the pinwheel-shaped spacecraft also swung by the south pole of the largest planet in the solar system.
NASA also released an eerie infrared image of a southern Jovian aurora:
The images come from just the first of 36 flybys NASA has planned for Juno.
These are closest views of the so-called “King of the Solar System” we’ve seen since 2007. That’s when NASA’s New Horizons probe paid a visit while stealing some gravitational energy to make it to Pluto.
“We are in an orbit nobody has ever been in before, and these images give us a whole new perspective on this gas-giant world,” Bolton said in a previous NASA statement.
Prior to New Horizons, the Cassini mission took some gorgeous photos of the 89,000-mile-wide planet before continuing on to Saturn.
Here’s one of the most impressive Cassini images of Jupiter we’ve seen, taken in 2001:
Sometime before the end of 2016, NASA will tighten Juno’s orbits around Jupiter, causing it to swing around the planet once every 14 days for the next 16 months:
Once the mission ends, however, Juno won’t live on as a relic of humanity’s exploration.
To protect any aliens that might be living on icy moons such as Europa and Ganymede, NASA intends to fly the $1 billion probe to its doom — right into the seemingly bottomless, noxious clouds of Jupiter.