Jupiter’s greatest storm captured in latest spacecraft fly-by

16 Jan 2017

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko

Juno’s complicated mission towards, around and eventually onto Jupiter is still throwing up some stunning imagery of our solar system’s largest planet.

Jupiter’s surface is a bit of a mystery to scientists. An abundance of gas and some mighty storms were just two of the few things NASA was sure of before its Juno spacecraft left Earth on a mission of discovery.

This will all change in the coming months, after Juno successfully reached the planet and began orbiting Jupiter – despite some teething issues scuppering its original orbit plan.

While NASA waits for the spacecraft to hook into a tighter orbit, thus studying the planet at a far faster rate, greater images are being returned of Jupiter.

And, given its significance when looking at general images of Jupiter, the Great Red Spot has been a constant focus of attention.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko

With tumultuous winds peaking at about 400mph, the Great Red Spot has been swirling wildly over Jupiter’s skies for the past 150 years, and is twice the size of Earth.

This image of a crescent Jupiter and the iconic Great Red Spot was created by a ‘citizen scientist’ called Roman Tkachenko using data from Juno’s JunoCam instrument, which is all available to play around with here.

You can also see a series of storms shaped like white ovals, known informally as the ‘string of pearls’. Below the Great Red Spot, a reddish long-lived storm known as Oval BA is visible.

Jupiter’s pearls. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Jupiter’s pearls. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

The image was taken on 11 December, as the Juno spacecraft performed its third close fly-by of Jupiter, around 458,800km from the planet at this moment.

Other data from the same fly-by shows the seventh of the eight pearls from a different vantage point.

Though not as big as the Great Red Spot superstorm, these pearls are massive counter-clockwise rotating storms that appear as white ovals in the gas giant’s southern hemisphere.

Since 1986, these white ovals have varied in number from six to nine. There are currently eight white ovals visible.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic