The farthest solar-powered spacecraft ever sent back another batch of spectacular images of Jupiter.
The fifth planet from the Sun — about 499 million miles from Earth — and the largest in the Solar System has had NASA’s Juno spacecraft in orbit since 2016.
Juno is in a highly elliptical orbit of Jupiter, so spends most of its time far from the gas giant. However, every 63 days it dives close to the planet’s poles. That’s called a perijove.
Here are nine jaw-dropping images produced from the Juno data sent back to NASA earlier this week during its 42nd perijove — which come just a few days before this weekend’s “super conjunction” of Jupiter and Mars as seen from Earth (details below):
All of the images you see from Juno — including all of these — actually come from a talented and dedicated group of “citizen scientists.” They each download the raw image data from Juno’s two-megapixel JunoCam imager and painstakingly integrate them into these beautiful photos. All the raw data comes from the Juno mission’s website.
This Sunday, May 29, 2022 Mars and Jupiter will appear to be just 0.5º apart — about half the width of a full Moon — in the pre-dawn night sky in what is called a “super conjunction.”
Get up early and look to the southeast. You do not need any equipment for any of this week’s night sights — just clear skies and your own eyes.
The first space mission to orbit an outer planet from pole to pole, Juno gets to with a few thousand miles of Jupiter’s cloud-tops at the poles. It’s studying Jupiter’s magnetic field and so far has uncovered hitherto unknown facts about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot storm, its aurorae and its weird “mushball mechanism.”
It’s also managed to photograph its moons, including Europa and Io in this batch and, previously, Ganymede — the latter larger than the planet Mercury (as well as Pluto).
According to a new report the troughs that dominate the surface of the solar system’s largest moon Ganymede may have been caused by a collision with a massive object up to 90 miles / 150 km wide. If the theory is true then it is the largest impact structure identified so far in the solar system.
Juno has on board a titanium radiation vault to protect the spacecraft’s most sensitive science instruments from Jupiter’s intense radiation belts.
Although Juno is expected to remain active at Jupiter through September 2025, after its demise there will be other spacecraft in the Jovian system to study Jupiter’s moons.
The European Space Agency’s JUICE (Jupiter Icy moon Explorer) mission is scheduled to launch between April 5-25, 2023 on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, South America.
NASA’s Europa Clipper mission will launch in October 2024 and arrive in late 2027 to perform about 45 flybys, in each pass photographing the moon icy surface in high resolution.
It will arrive in 2031 and spend three and a half years examining two of Jupiter’s other moons Europa and Callisto before going into orbit of Ganymede in September 2032. It will become the first spacecraft to orbit a moon other than Earth’s Moon.
NASA’s $ 1.1 billion spacecraft Juno spacecraft is but the latest to capture the beauty of Jupiter. It follows in the footsteps of NASA’s Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, the Galileo Orbiter and Galileo Probe, Ulysses and Cassini probes.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.