General Science

Up Close Look at Jupiter’s Giant Red Spot

posted: 07/12/17
by: Jason Ginsburg
Giant Red Spot
credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Roman Tkachenko (creative commons)

It's the moment Jupiter-lovers have been waiting for.

NASA's Juno probe arrived at Jupiter last year and has made five "science" flybys. The spacecraft has used a suite of instruments to measure the gas giant's magnetic fields, scan its atmosphere, and observe its auroras. Perhaps the most familiar instrument is the JunoCam.

The JunoCam has provided amazing images during the probes journey, including a fantastic view of Jupiter's south pole. But it took until today to see stunning new images of Jupiter's main attraction: the Great Red Spot.

Juno's sixth "perijove" -- the moment its orbit is closest to Jupiter -- brought it 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the solar system's most famous storm, which has been raging since at least Galileo's first observation of the planet through a telescope. That would qualify as "mid-Earth orbit" if Juno was circling Earth. NASA reported that all instruments were operational during the crucial encounter.

The first images are already dazzling, showcasing the storm's size, power, and beauty. The JunoCam has four filters: three in the visible spectrum (red, green, blue) and a narrow-band "methane" filter for infrared. NASA and JPL have encouraged the public to download the raw photos, enhance, crop, and color-correct them, and then share them in the Juno gallery. The result is amazing pictures like the one above.

The tempest is 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) wide, which is large enough to fit two Earths inside. With no solid surface to weaken the storm, it generates winds up to 400 mph, twice as fast as the most powerful hurricanes on our home planet.

"For generations people from all over the world and all walks of life have marveled over the Great Red Spot," said the mission's principal investigator, Scott Bolton in a statement just prior to the flyby. "Now we are finally going to see what this storm looks like up close and personal."

Juno's orbit is so wide that its next flyby won't be until September 1. Until then, we have plenty of beautiful images to keep us satisfied.

Learn more about the Great Red Spot. and stay with us for updates on other findings from the flyover.

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