RED SPOT GETS A CLOSE-UP

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Danika Wor­thing­ton

On Mon­day, NASA sent its Lock­heed Mart­in­built and -de­signed Juno space­craft skim­ming just 2,200 miles above the roil­ing cloud tops of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. »

Juno has sent back the first close-up pho­tos of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, pro­vid­ing a chance to dig into the gi­ant planet’s mys­te­ri­ous fea­ture that has mys­ti­fied sci­en­tists for hun­dreds of years.

Juno, a space­craft de­signed, built and tested at Lock­heed Martin Space Sys­tems in Lit­tle­ton, took the pho­tos July 10 dur­ing its clos­est flyby, when it was only 5,600 miles above the swirling clouds.

“We ac­tu­ally some­times don’t know what we’re go­ing to be learn­ing,” said Glenn Or­ton, se­nior re­search sci­en­tist at the Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory at the Cali- for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy. “This is sort of science in a fish­bowl.”

Sci­en­tists started mon­i­tor­ing the storm in 1830, but astronomers no­ticed it be­fore then, ac­cord­ing to NASA. The Great Red Spot is 10,000-miles wide, which is wider than the di­am­e­ter of Earth. In mod­ern times, it ap­pears to be shrink­ing. Sci­en­tists be­lieve Jupiter was the first planet formed af­ter the sun, con­sum­ing 70 per­cent of the left­over mass in the so­lar sys­tem.

Or­ton said teams have been email­ing back and forth since the first pho­tos came in, ask­ing each other what they found. Some of those dis­cov­er­ies in­clude un­ex­pected mi­crostruc­tures. But, hon­estly, sci-

en­tists didn’t know what to ex­pect with the largest known vor­tex in the so­lar sys­tem, he said.

Sci­en­tists are us­ing the pho­tos as well as other equip­ment on Juno and tele­scopes from Earth to piece­meal dis­cov­er­ies. Sci­en­tists be­lieve that darker spots are clouds that are closer to the sur­face, Or­ton said. The red hues are likely be­cause the clouds are be­lieved to be made ei­ther com­pletely or partly out of am­mo­nia. The puffy clouds could be puffy be­cause they’re mov­ing so fast — be­tween 150 and 180 me­ters per sec­ond on the out­skirts — that they couldn’t freeze.

But then again, Or­ton said with a laugh, “I may be wrong about ev­ery­thing.”

On July 4, Juno cel­e­brated the an­niver­sary of when it en­tered or­bit around the gas planet. The $1.13 bil­lion mis­sion is the first time NASA has re­turned to Jupiter since the Galileo mis­sion ended in 2003. Juno was launched Aug. 5, 2011, and will fin­ish its jour­ney in Fe­bru­ary, when it flies into Jupiter and is de­stroyed by the planet’s at­mos­phere.

The space­craft has been con­duct­ing ex­per­i­ments while there, mea­sur­ing var­i­ous data points such as grav­ity, elec­tron en­ergy and plasma waves. The Univer­sity of Colorado is in­volved in one of those stud­ies, in­ves­ti­gat­ing Jupiter’s mas­sive auro­ras, which are five times the di­am­e­ter of Earth’s north­ern lights.

For the pho­tog­ra­phy nerds: The space­craft is spin­ning so quickly — two ro­ta­tions per minute — that the im­age be­comes blurry with an ex­po­sure that’s longer than 3.2 mil­lisec­onds. But that short of an ex­po­sure would not give the cam­era enough light. So sci­en­tists use time-de­layed in­te­gra­tion to ver­ti­cally shift the im­age one row each 3.2 mil­lisec­onds over the to­tal ex­po­sure.

NASA put the raw pho­tos on its web­site. The agency is ask­ing the pub­lic to down­load the im­ages and play around with their own im­age processing, such as crop­ping, en­hanc­ing colors and cre­at­ing col­lages. NASA then asks peo­ple to up­load their cre­ations for the agency to en­joy and share.

AFP

This com­bi­na­tion of pic­tures from NASA shows im­ages cap­tured Mon­day of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter.

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