After nearly a year in orbit, the Juno spacecraft is starting to crack some of Jupiter’s many mysteries.
This week, the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters published the first batch of scientific findings about Jupiter, based on Juno’s trips there. Discoveries include enormous new cyclones swirling around the planet’s poles, a magnetic field that’s much more variable than expected, and some evidence that Jupiter’s core is not as dense and compact as once thought. “What we’ve learned so far is Earth-shattering. Or should I say, Jupiter-shattering,” Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator, said, in a press statement, making his very best dad joke.
The science is great and fascinating. But let’s be honest: We’re here for the pictures. And Juno is delivering unprecedented beautiful portraits of the largest planet in our solar system. The images released along with the scientific papers are arresting — one part van Gogh painting, one part Pillars of Creation. Add to that the awesome size of what’s in them: Even seemingly small details on Jupiter can be larger than the entire Earth.
As Juno orbits around Jupiter’s poles once every 53 days, it gets within a few thousand miles of the planet’s cloud tops. On these approaches, Juno’s cameras reveal details, disturbances, sinewy undulations, massive storms, and ammonia clouds that spread out in iridescent folds like an oil film on a sidewalk puddle.