After its historic flyby earlier this week, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has sent us our closest images ever of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
On 10 July, after five tours of Jupiter’s cloud tops, Juno was finally able to make its much-awaited flyby of Jupiter where it could finally catch a glimpse of the 16,000km-wide Great Red Spot, up close and personal.
By far the gas giant’s most distinctive feature, the spot is believed to be a storm that has raged on the planet for centuries, and has remained relatively mysterious in terms of what lies beneath.
However, now that Juno has made close contact with the Great Red Spot, the first few stunning images have returned.
To capture these images, Juno had to fly as close as 9,000km to the spot and at its closest approach to the planet, as little as 3,500km.
The incredible images taken by the JunoCam will be used in conjunction with Juno’s vast array of instruments designed to peer beneath the cloud to reveal its hidden secrets.
More flybys needed
Speaking with The Guardian, Juno programme scientist Jared Espley said he was amazed by the photos that have returned so far, describing them as “works of natural art”.
However, he admitted that it will take some time before we can truly figure out the spot’s mysteries.
“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 build up this map of the interior.”
Juno is scheduled to make more flybys of the planet every 53 days, but the recent success will be as close as humankind gets to the spot for a long, long time.