Image Credits: Vadim Sadovski/shutterstock.com
A stunning photo of a gas-giant resembling Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night painting was unveiled by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on its website on June 22. The photo was taken by Juno spacecraft as it performed its 13th close flyby of Jupiter.
According to NASA, “Juno was about 9,600 miles (15,500 kilometers) from the planet's cloud tops, above a northern latitude of 56 degrees” at the time the photo was snapped (10:23 p.m. PDT on May 23, 2018).
NASA described the “swirling cloud belts and tumultuous vortices” in the photo as “somewhat chaotic and turbulent”. The bright-colored ones represent cloud material high above the atmosphere that “are most likely ammonia or ammonia and water, mixed with a sprinkling of unknown chemical ingredients” while the dark-colored ones represent cloud material that “is deeper in Jupiter’s atmosphere”.
Highlighting the “bright oval” at the bottom center of the photo, NASA explained how the JunoCam (the imager aboard the spacecraft), allows the people to “observe the fine-scale structure within this weather system, including additional structures within it”. The same image appears uniformly white only when observed from ground-based telescopes.
NASA also added that the photo was color-enhanced by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager which were re-projected, blended and healed.
Raw photos from JunoCam were made available to the public for the latter to peruse and process into image products. The processed images can then be shared and uploaded to Mission Juno website.
“Creativity and curiosity in the scientific spirit and the adventure of space exploration is highly encouraged and we look forward to seeing Jupiter through not only JunoCam's eyes, but your own,” NASA’s official guidelines for the processing of raw images states.
Mission Juno, named after the goddess Juno, Jupiter’s wife in Roman mythology, was launched in August 2011 and started orbiting planet Jupiter in July 2016. Its primary goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter.
Specifically, “Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet's auroras”.
Since Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium like the sun, it is assumed to have formed earlier than the other planets. Its giant mass also allowed it to hold onto its original composition, providing a way to trace the history of the solar system.
The mission will be a giant step in understanding not only how giant planets are formed, but also how the solar system came to be – the fundamental processes and conditions during its formation.
Jupiter Mission Re-Planned
Earlier in June, NASA announced an update to Juno’s science operations extending Juno’s orbit around Jupiter by 41 months, ending in July 2021.
As stated on its website, “Juno is in 53-day orbits rather than 14-day orbits as initially planned because of a concern about valves on the spacecraft’s fuel system”. Nothing to worry about as independent panel of experts confirmed in April that “Juno spacecraft and all instruments are healthy and operating nominally”.
The updated plans will allow the spacecraft to “complete its primary science goals” according to Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and that it’s “a great news for the planetary exploration”.
According to NASA’s website, “the Juno mission is the second spacecraft designed under NASA's New Frontiers Program. The first was the Pluto New Horizons mission, which flew by the dwarf planet in July 2015 after a nine-and-a-half-year flight.
The program provides opportunities to carry out several medium-class missions identified as top priority objectives in the Decadal Solar System Exploration Survey, conducted by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council in Washington”.
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