First findings from Juno reveal stunning image of Jupiter’s south pole

26 May 2017

Image: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock

Juno has revealed a Jupiter so unlike anything we’ve seen before, that NASA is having to reconsider everything we know about it.

After months of anticipation, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has returned its first scientific data for Jupiter and, along with it, some eye-opening images and sounds that will keep the space agency busy for some time.

It marks the high point in a mission that began just under six years ago, and now the results of the first data collection pass on 4 July last year are being collated into 46 different scientific papers.

But perhaps one of the greatest finds of the mission has been the new, collated image of Jupiter’s south pole, which reveals a world that is truly alien and in environmental turmoil.

Shot from 52,000km above the planet’s surface, the stunning blue region – created with some clever NASA photography work – contains dozen of cyclones 1,000km in diameter.

How these Earth-sized storms formed remains a mystery to science, particularly given that the planet’s southern pole differs so much from the north.

Jupiter south pole

Multiple images taken with the JunoCam instrument on three separate orbits were combined to show all areas in daylight, enhanced colour and stereographic projection. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

Rethinking what we know about Jupiter

“We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator.

“But now that we are here, we are finding that Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders. There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect, that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.”

NASA has also been busy releasing a treasure trove of data on the planet’s powerful plasma waves, which have been collated to allow us hear the planet ‘sing’ with its haunting chirps.

‘Doused by a firehose of Jovian science’

One of the other big surprises from the flyby has been the strength of Jupiter’s magnetic field, the strongest in the solar system.

It seems that science had underestimated this strength, with new findings suggesting that it is much higher, at 7.766 Gauss, 10 times stronger than any magnetic field found on Earth.

The next flyby is scheduled to take place on 11 July when it will examine the planet’s most iconic landmark: the Great Red Spot.

“Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a firehose of Jovian science, and there is always something new,” Bolton said.

“If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth, swirling, crimson cloud tops, it’s Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic