RED SPOT GETS A CLOSE-UP
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.
This combination of pictures from NASA shows images captured Monday of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter.