Jupiter appears blusih and stormy in this image of its north pole, newly captured by the Juno probe. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS
Jupiter’s north and south poles have been captured for the first time in images sent back to Earth by NASA’s Juno space probe.
The pictures follow Juno’s first flyby of the planet on 27 August, during which it flew as close as 4,200km above Jupiter’s clouds. It is the first of 37 flybys of the planet Juno will make over the course of its mission.
The spacecraft’s JunoCam captured the planet’s poles in optical light, while its JI-RAM (Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper) instrument captured the regions in infrared.
“First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” says Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton.
”It’s bluer in colour up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms.
There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to – this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter.
We’re seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.”
The infrared images show warm and hot spots at Jupiter’s poles that have never been observed before, and also reveal the planet’s southern aurora for the first time.
As well as notable first sights, Juno’s flyby has also intrigued scientists over what it has not seen: namely, a Saturn-like hexagonal cloud pattern at its poles.
While it is still not known what causes Saturn’s hexagon figure at its north pole, the lack of a similar feature on Jupiter is a further revelation from the Juno mission.
“Saturn has a hexagon at the north pole,” says Scott Bolton.
“There is nothing on Jupiter that anywhere near resembles that.
The largest planet in our solar system is truly unique.
We have 36 more flybys to study just how unique it really is.”