The Closest, Most Spectacular Look at Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Yet
NASA’s spacecraft Juno recently passed directly over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, and it sent back our best view of the storm yet.
For 187 years, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has been continuously observed, fascinating astronomers and the public alike. The spot is an anticyclonic high-pressure storm that has raged without a break for at least 350 years, and it is large enough to swallow three Earth’s whole.
Despite our constant observations, the Great Red Spot is still something of a mystery. There are even several theories as to what causes the formation or the color of the storm. What we do know is that the area is violent, even by Jovian standards. The clouds move like waves, traveling at over 500 mph, and the spot is incredibly hot. We also know that the storms continue to rage due to the nature of Jupiter. The gas giant’s core is made of liquid hydrogen, and with no hard surfaces on the planet to create friction and opposes their momentum, the storm continues unabated, although the storm has shrunk a bit in recent years.
Those questions are part of why NASA sent the Juno spacecraft to give us a closer look – our closest look yet. The probe came within 5,600 of the Great Red Spot. But given that it is traveling at tens of thousands of miles per hour, the probe had only nine minutes to take as many photos as possible before its trajectory and Jupiter’s gravity sent it hurtling toward the Jovian moon of Callisto.
Despite the limited time, the pictures are amazing.
The data from the probe began to arrive on July 12. NASA was quick to release some of the raw images, which were run through image processors. That means the images you see aren’t actually the images the probe sees – it takes pictures without color because they are easier to analyze – but the artificial colors are accurate.
“We don’t turn up our noses at artificial color,” aid Candice Hansen, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute who leads the JunoCam team. “We love artificial color.”
The images also contain plenty of scientific data that astronomer will be studying for months to come, but for now we are left with some awe-inspiring images. Check out the gallery above for a few of our favorites.