Jupiter

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Juno swoops around Jupiter’s poles

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has returned its first close-up images of Jupiter, from a unique vantage above and below the planet’s poles. This image of the South Pole, taken on 27 August in the first of the probe’s 36 orbits, shows some of the giant storms that roil the atmosphere in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Juno began orbiting Jupiter on 4 July and will spend a year studying the stormy planet from a swooping, polar orbit that brings it close to the upper atmosphere. The orbit was designed to thread the needle between Jupiter’s cloud tops and radiation belts, which can fry electronics and interfere with the spacecraft’s microwave detector. Mission scientists plan to use this instrument to peer beneath the planet’s veil of haze and ammonia clouds in order to map a suspected water layer. The roots of storm systems are expected to be seen in this layer, and measuring water’s abundance in relation to other elements can help scientists determine whether Jupiter formed in its current location, or migrated in from a more distant, colder birthplace.