Saturday, September 10, 2016

Juno’s Jupiter Flyby Photos (2016)

Planetary Space

Jupiter’s North Pole: NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this view as it closed in on Jupiter’s north pole, about two hours before closest approach on 27 August.
Source: Cosmos

Aarticle in Cosmos magazine shows photos of the north and south poles of Jupiter, taken from the first scientific flyby of the Juno probe. The Juno probe, solar powered, launched by NASA on August 5, 2011, travelled 2.8 billion kilometers (18.7 astronomical units; 1.74 billion miles) to reach Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Part of its planned mission is to orbit the planet 37 times over the next 20 months, doing so via an elliptical polar orbit 5,000 kilometres (approx 3,100 miles) above the planet's gaseous surface, composed primarily of hydrogen and helium.

During this time, it will take a number of photos similar to this one, but its chief purpose is scientific in nature—to find out more about the fifth planet from the sun, the largest in our solar system. While telescopes can and do reveal general aspects of a planet, being up close reveals more particulars, as the Juno probe will likely do. The NASA Science Missions site puts it this way:

The primary scientific goal of the Juno mission is to significantly improve our understanding of the formation, evolution and structure of Jupiter. Concealed beneath a dense cover of clouds, Jupiter, the archetypical "Giant Planet," safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes underlying the early formation of our solar system. Present theories of the origin and early evolution of our solar system are currently at an impasse. Juno will provide answers to critical science questions about Jupiter, as well as key information that will dramatically enhance present theories about the early formation of our own solar system.
Whether this probe will give definitive answers is an open question. I suspect that in answering some questions (e.g., the planets structure and composition), it will lead to more questions, some bordering on the realm of science fiction. Then again, all good science has within it speculation and the use of imagination. Some contend that if we can imagine it, then it must be a reality somewhere for someone.

Jupiter’s South Pole: This infrared image gives an unprecedented view of the southern aurora of Jupiter, as captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft on 27 August.

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