- The Juno probe is orbiting Jupiter and unlocking deeply held secrets of the gas giant.
- Scientists at NASA used the spacecraft’s photos to build a stunning new 3D animation of the planet’s north pole.
- The pictures show a bizarrely symmetric collection of storms that choke the top of Jupiter.
- Juno is preparing for its final orbits of the giant world unless NASA extends its mission.
NASA’s Juno probe continues to whip around Jupiter and beam back incredible new colour photos of the giant planet.
But images that capture the planet’s stormy poles in infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes, are helping to crack the mysteries of Jupiter’s inner workings.
NASA released a new 3D animation on Wednesday that was made using infrared photos of Jupiter’s poles. Juno is documenting those mysterious regions of the enormous planet for the first time in history.
“Before Juno, we could only guess what Jupiter’s poles would look like,” Alberto Adriani, a Juno team member at Rome’s Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, said in a NASA-JPLpress release about the animation.
Visible-light images taken by the probe’s JunoCam show a bizarrely symmetric pattern of anticyclonic or backward-spinning storms.
However, infrared images recorded by the a tool called the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper, or JIRAM, help researchers peer dozens of miles deep into the gas giant’s poles.
The newly released pictures reveal the shape and structure of the jam-packed collection of storms.
Juno scientists debuted the animations during the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Austria.
What Juno’s images of Jupiter’s north pole reveal
Cooler and generally higher-altitude clouds are shown in red, down to a temperature of -118 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest and warmest clouds seen by JIRAM’s infrared sensor are yellow, and they go up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit.
The animation zooms in from visible-light images of Jupiter to show the 3D reconstruction, which was made from JIRAM pictures taken during Juno’s fourth high-speed flyby, or perijove, of the planet on February 2, 2017.
According to NASA, the temperature readings and 3D reconstruction “provide insight into how the powerful cyclones at Jupiter’s poles work.”
Juno’s gravitational field measurements are also giving researchers a new understanding of the gas giant’s inner workings.
Together with infrared and magnetic readings, the probe is helping to crack the longstanding mystery of how Jupiter’s incredibly fast 10-hour day shapes weather systems from deep within the planet.
“We have essentially solved the issue of how Jupiter’s interior rotates,” Tristan Guillot, another Juno team member at the University of Côte d’Azur in France, said in the release. “The zones and belts that we see in the atmosphere rotating at different speeds extend to about 1,900 miles.”
A fiery end for the Juno mission
Juno’s primary mission is slated to end after its 14th perijove on July 16, 2018. NASA is likely to extend the mission by two or three years, pending a review. (A space agency representative did not respond to Business Insider’s questions about the plan for the probe.)
But all good things must come to an end eventually: NASA will ultimately destroy Juno by guiding it to plunge into the thick clouds of Jupiter.
By doing so, the space agency will make sure the probe can’t crash into the planet’s icy moon Europa. Europa and another moon called Ganymede likely have oceans of liquid water – and possibly extraterrestrial life – beneath their surfaces. NASA doesn’t want to contaminate those oceans with bacteria from Earth that’s stuck to Juno.
In the future, though, it could send a super-sterile mission beneath the ice to search for aliens.