Launched into space in August 2011, the Juno spacecraft has been orbiting Jupiter since July 2016, but only a few days ago it managed to get the closest any spacecraft has ever been to the Great Red Spot - a thundering storm that’s been raging for over 350 years.
The red spot is now roughly 10,000 miles wide - a few decades ago you could fit three entire planet Earth inside it. But the storm has shrunk considerably over the decades and now it’s estimated only one planet Earth could fit inside (Earth’s diameter is about 7,900 miles).
It’s not like that makes the Red Spot even a tiny bit less threatening: it’s still a giant storm the size of our entire planet.
Here’s an enhanced version of the image above for extra color and detail:
There are still plenty of mysteries surrounding the ancient storm.
Scientists certainly have questions about Jupiter’s storm:
- Does the storm reach down into the depths of the planet?
- Or is the storm superficial?
- What causes its characteristic red color?
The scientists are hoping the photos, along with readings from Juno’s instruments, will provide some answers or at least some clues to these mysteries so they can learn more about the storm.
Below, you see another image taken by the Juno spacecraft, this time of Jupiter’s south pole.
The oval/circular spots are huge cyclones up to 600 miles wide.
Mesmerized, Juno’s principal investigator, Scott Bolton, said:
“We're puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is, and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn't look like the south pole,” said Bolton. “We're questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we're going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?” (Source: NASA)
Being in orbit, Juno is at the mercy of Jupiter’s gravitational field and the immensely complex calculation and planning from the experts at NASA. Juno gets close to Jupiter every 53 days - that’s when they take everything they can from the planet to study its secrets. The fly-by over the Great Red Spot actually happened sooner than expected.
After gathering all that’s possible from the gas giant, Juno will be plunged into Jupiter for a grand finale, likely disintegrating into its stormy atmosphere. The end of the mission is predicted for somewhere around 2018-2019.
You can stay updated on Juno’s whereabouts from the official Twitter.