NASA Releases Treasure Trove of Incredible New Images of Jupiter From Its Juno Mission

On October 24, NASA's Juno spacecraft completed its ninth close pass over the gas giant. That's exciting news for scientists, of course, but their discoveries typically take longer to announce. But for those of us who like our gratification a little more instantaneous, the close flyby brought another boon: a whole new batch of absolutely stunning photographs of the largest planet in our solar system.

11_08_juno_jupiter_swirls A processed image of Jupiter from Juno's ninth close flyby. NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran © CC NC SA

The Juno team announced new raw images from its camera on November 6. But the real magic happens after space-lovers around the world get their hands on the images, bringing out their details and making the planet's colors easier to appreciate. Where the raw images are stuck in a muted palette and are fragmented by the spacecraft's flight plan and camera angles, the processed images drop jaws and inspire awe.

That's precisely the task taken on by the JunoCam committee, an online community of space image enthusiasts. And that's actually a new system: traditionally, NASA has done its own image work. But for Juno, they decided to give the power to the people, even letting the community decide what features to photograph each time the spacecraft swings over the planet.

11_08_jupiter_juno_slice A swath of Jupiter as seen by the Juno spacecraft. NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Shawn Handran © PUBLIC DOMAIN

For this close pass of Jupiter, the spacecraft was particularly focused on gathering data with its microwave radiometer, which can analyze about 250 miles down into the planet's atmosphere. Studying microwave radiation will let the scientists calculate how much water Jupiter's clouds hold.

11_08_jupiter_juno_swirls Patterns formed by the top layer of Jupiter's thick atmosphere. NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran © CC NC SA

"We have no idea what we're going to see because nobody's ever seen this region before, so it's going to be a surprise to all of us when we get the information back," Michael Janssen, one of the lead scientists behind the microwave radiometer, said in a video produced by NASA before the spacecraft launched. "We expect to discover all sorts of new things."

Juno has already determined that Jupiter has a stronger and less predictable magnetic field than scientists had realized and that the planet's giant auroras don't work quite the way they had thought.

11_08_juno_jupiter_slice A new image of Jupiter. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Cristo Sanchez © PUBLIC DOMAIN

Juno arrived at Jupiter in July of 2016 and has been looping around the planet once every 53 days since then. The mission is booked up through July 2018 for 12 science orbits, of which this was the eighth. But at that point, the scientists behind Juno can ask NASA to extend the mission, and many missions do get extended—which means there's a good chance there will be plenty more stunning images to come.

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