In photos: NASA’s Juno returns spectacular images of Jupiter

NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft has sent back another set of images from 560 million miles (900 million kilometers) away.

The bus-sized spacecraft, which has been in Jupiter’s orbit since 2016, captured more stunning images of the giant planet during a brief flyby of the polar regions.

It comes just in time, as Jupiter will enter what astronomers call a superior conjunction on May 18, when it passes behind the Sun as seen from Earth.

Juno orbits Jupiter every 34 days, but along a huge elliptical path, so it only comes close to Jupiter for a few hours each month. That short period – called a perijov– took place last Sunday, Juno’s 61st. During a perijove, Juno dives close to Jupiter’s cloud tops.

Juno orbits Jupiter every 34 days, but along a huge elliptical path, so it only comes close to Jupiter for a few hours each month. That short period – called a perijov– took place last Sunday, Juno’s 61st. During a perijove, Juno dives close to Jupiter’s cloud tops.

Juno’s camera is activated during each period. JunoCam, a two-megapixel camera intended only for outreach and not for science, was activated early in recent months to photograph some of Jupiter’s moons ahead of its perijove with the giant planet.

Last month it captured Europa, an ice-covered moon thought to contain a subterranean ocean. An article appeared in March Nature Astronomy used Juno’s Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) instrument to measure the amount of oxygen produced by Europa. It turned out that the small moon generates 1,000 tons of oxygen every 24 hours.

Planetary scientists think that if some of the oxygen produced on Europa ends up in the moon’s ocean, it could be a possible source of metabolic energy, allowing life forms to exist. Europa is the fourth largest of Jupiter’s 95 known moons.

“Our ability to fly close to the Galilean satellites during our extended mission allowed us to tackle a wide range of science, including some unique opportunities to contribute to the study of the habitability of Europe,” said Scott Bolton , Juno’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute. in San Antonio. “And we’re not done yet. More lunar flights and the first exploration of Jupiter’s nearby ring and polar atmosphere are yet to be done.”

Juno also recently imaged Jupier’s deepest moo, Io. This world is the most volcanic in the solar system, with eruptions orders of magnitude greater than anything on Earth.

Data from Juno’s extremely close flybys of Io in December 2023 and February 2024, both within about 1,500 kilometers of the surface, were the first ever at Io’s northern latitudes. It was turned into an animation featuring a mountain and Loki Patera, a lake of cooling lava on Io.

The next two spacecraft to arrive at Jupiter in April 2030 – NASA’s Europa Clipper and ESA’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) in 2031 – will target Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.

The $1.1 billion solar-powered spacecraft was launched on August 5, 2011 and began orbiting Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Juno carries eleven scientific instruments designed to study the Jovian system.

Juno’s 62nd perijove will take place on June 14 and its mission will be completed on September 15, 2025, when Juno will perform a “death dive” into the gas giant during its 76th perijove.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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