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A Closer Look At Jupiter’s ‘Red Spot’



Nasa’s Juno mission has captured stunning images of Jupiter’s great red spot in its first up-close flyby of the huge storm.

The images reveal not only the size of the tempest but also its extraordinary colour. With the raw data released to the public, citizen scientists and experts alike have since shared their own processed versions of the images, revealing in stunning detail the vast, swirling feature.

“The main impression I have is the beauty of them,” Jared Espley, Juno program scientist at Nasa HQ in Washington, told the Guardian. “These are works of natural art.”

The flyby, which took place on Monday, was the closest a spacecraft has ever flown directly over the 16,000km-wide great red spot, passing as close as 3,500km above the planet and about 9,000km above the clouds of the giant storm itself.

Launched in 2011, the $1.1bn Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter’s orbit in July 2016 after a 2.8bn km journey. The goal of the mission is to probe fundamental questions about the makeup of the planet, from its magnetic field to its radiation environment, and even the nature of the great red spot itself.

“There’s a lot of mysteries that are still about the storm – exactly what causes the red colour, exactly what is the energy that is powering the storm,” said Espley.

While the images, captured by the JunoCam instrument, will be scientifically analysed, other data collected during the flyby, he adds, will help to probe the planet’s interior.

“The other instruments are mostly focused on trying to understand what is happening underneath the clouds,” said Espley. “That is actually really neat here because that will particularly allow us look and see what is underneath the great red spot.”

With close flybys every 53 days, the next will come on 1 September. But Espley said the spacecraft won’t be passing over the storm again anytime soon, and warns it will be some time before the inner workings of the planet are unravelled.

“All of these instruments are working together to understand that and in particular we want to built up a network of observations to understand what is going on inside,” he said. “Every time we come by with a close approach then we get a little bit more insight as to what is going on, but it will take many close approaches to built up this map of the interior.”

Source : USA TODAY, The Guardian