At 10pm EDT on Monday, Juno took close-up pictures of Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot and pointed its scientific instruments at the gigantic storm to create an effective 3D image that would tell scientists more about the mechanics of the storm. The pictures were taken at the low altitude of 5,600 miles above the top of the Great Red Spot.
In a statement released prior to Juno’s pass over the Great Red Spot, Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from NASA’s Southwest Research Institute, said, “Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special.”
The Great Red Spot may also produce scientific surprises even though scientists currently expect that they could detect lightning flashes, ammonia ice, and possible water in its clouds. Bolton speculated that Juno’s scientific instruments could produce data that help scientists account for the storm’s longevity as they probe hundreds of kilometers below its surface, but also said, “One of the things I’ve learned from Juno already, even if I thought I knew what to expect, don’t believe it too much.”
The Great Red Spot has lasted for at least 187 years and, over the past few years, has become more circular and smaller, leading to speculation that this giant hurricane is gradually blowing itself out. The storm was photographed by the Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini probes. The JunoCam is capable of taking more detailed pictures than previous probes, especially at its much closer distance from Jupiter.
“[W]e’re so close, I think we’re going to blow their stuff away,” Bolton said when comparing JunoCam to the visible light cameras of previous missions.
Now that Juno’s mission planners have canceled a rocket engine burn that would have shortened Juno’s mission, the probe will also have many more opportunities to photograph the Great Red Spot than either Voyager or Cassini did. The previous probes had only made flybys of Jupiter while on their way to other destinations in the solar system.
The JunoCam – a visible-light camera that has been used to take pictures of features on Jupiter that are chosen by the public – has returned hundreds of raw, unprocessed images. The public can assist with processing these images by visiting Juno’s official website. And check out the citizen-scientist’s already processed photos right here.