Jupiter, fifth planet from the sun and named for the king of the Roman Gods, is in the news. It is a gas giant, primarily composed of hydrogen, with a quarter of its mass being helium. It may also have a rocky core, but lacks a well-defined solid surface. The outer atmosphere is visibly segregated into several bands, resulting in turbulence and storms along their interacting boundaries.
Jupiter was recognized in ancient times, and a giant storm known as the Great Red Spot has existed at least since the 17th century when it was first seen through a telescope. This planet has more than 60 moons, the largest among them are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
The one billion dollar Juno probe program launched a probe on August 5, 2011. Its trajectory used a gravity speed boost from Earth, accomplished by an Earth flyby in October of 2013, to reach Jupiter, and arrived in Jupiter orbit on July 5, 2016, where it performed an orbital insertion burn slow enough to allow it to be captured by the planet. The spacecraft traveled a total distance of roughly 2.8 billion kilometers (1.74 billion miles). On board the probe are instruments that allow it to map Jupiter’s gravity fields, investigate the composition of its atmosphere and monitor the planet’s auroras, among other tasks.
The probe fully orbits Jupiter once every 53 days and ventures as close as 2,600 miles to the planet’s surface. Its current mission is slated to continue through July, but scientists may propose to extend it at that time.
“Juno is providing spectacular results, and we are rewriting our ideas of how giant planets work,” Scott Bolton, a principal investigator on the Juno program, said in a statement last February.
Two citizen scientists, Gerald Eichstadt and Sean Doran, have enhanced the images from the probe by manipulation the color and contrast. This is something encouraged by NASA’s JunoCam project because even though Juno’s abilities are literally out of this world, the images transmitted by the craft still don’t do the planet justice.
As a result the pictures of Jupiter are spectacular. Here are a few:
After its final trip around Jupiter, the probe will enter what NASA euphemistically calls its “deorbit phase,” in which Juno will spend the last five plus days of its existence hurling itself into Jupiter. The planet’s atmosphere is so harsh, the spacecraft will burn up. This is being done because NASA and its Office of Planetary Protection have strict rules about contaminating space, especially if it involves places where we would look for life.
One of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, is thought to be one of the best sites for finding living organisms beyond Earth, because there may be an ocean beneath its frozen surface. NASA is currently working on how to send a lander to Europa. Two other Jovian moons, Ganymede and Callisto, are also on the list of contenders.
Our thanks are due to the patient team who set this project on its way!