“Through the Gates of Hell” –NASA’s Juno Mission Close-Up Fly By Today of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot: A Gargantuan 450-Year-Old Storm




What we'll find "is a big puzzle; nobody knows," said the Juno mission's principal investigator, Scott Bolton, from the Southwest Research Institute in Texas. "There are some scientists who believe that in order for a storm to have lasted that long, it must have very deep roots. Maybe the source of energy that's creating that storm comes from deep inside the planet.

"Of course, up till now," Bolton added, "we've only had the ability to look at the top part of Jupiter. We just see this thin veneer, which is gorgeous — it has these beautiful zones and belts, and this great storm on it, and a bunch of cyclones — but the key is what's underneath."


As storms go, Jupiter's colossal Great Red Spot 16,000 km across raging for 450 years, is the solar system's heavyweight. According to NASA, it could swallow the Earth whole and still have room for Mars. Telescopes in Hawaii have obtained new images of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot, which will assist the first-ever close-up study of the Great Red Spot, today at 12:06pm (AEST) Tuesday, July 10 On that date, NASA's Juno spacecraft will fly directly over the giant planet's most famous feature at an altitude of only about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers).

"Nobody knows exactly what kind of features we'll see inside, what the kind of colors and swirling of the clouds are," said Bolton. "Maybe we'll see something that looks three-dimensional, like a tunnel going in — nothing would surprise me at this point. It's going to be incredible," said "We're basically just scraping along the top part of the atmosphere."



"We're going screaming past, but we've got cameras that know how to work at that speed," Dr Bolton said. "I can't wait to see what it looks like." 

New thermal images above are from powerful ground-based telescopes show swirls of warmer air and cooler regions never seen before within Jupiter's Great Red Spot. (NASA/JPL/ESO and NASA/ESA/GSFC)

This is the sixth time the NASA probe has buzzed the gas giant since inserting itself into a precise, lopsided orbit almost exactly a year ago.

"There's high risk in every flyby. We're going through the gates of hell, every time," Dr Bolton said. "And each time we go by, we're going through a worse region. More hazard, more radiation. We will be on the edge of our seats, just keeping our fingers crossed that everything works and we get the close-up pictures that we all want," he said.

Throughout the Juno mission, numerous observations of Jupiter by Earth-based telescopes have been acquired in coordination with the mission, to help Juno investigate the giant planet's atmosphere. On May 18, 2017, the Gemini North telescope and the Subaru Telescope, both on Hawaii's Mauna Kea peak, simultaneously examined Jupiter in very high resolution at different wavelengths. These latest observations supplement others earlier this year in providing information about atmospheric dynamics at different depths at the Great Red Spot and other regions of Jupiter.

The Great Red Spot is a swirling storm, centuries old and wider than the diameter of Earth. Juno will use multiple instruments to study this feature when it flies over it about 12 minutes after the spacecraft makes the closest approach to Jupiter of its current orbit at 6:55 p.m. on July 10, PDT (9:55 p.m. on July 10, EDT; 1:55 a.m. on July 11, Universal Time). Juno entered orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

"Observations with Earth's most powerful telescopes enhance the spacecraft's planned observations by providing three types of additional context," said Juno science team member Glenn Orton of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "We get spatial context from seeing the whole planet. We extend and fill in our temporal context from seeing features over a span of time. And we supplement with wavelengths not available from Juno. The combination of Earth-based and spacecraft observations is a powerful one-two punch in exploring Jupiter."

Orton collaborated with researchers at Gemini; Subaru; the University of California, Berkeley; Tohoku University, Japan; and elsewhere in planning the recent observations.

The observers used Gemini North on May 18 to examine Jupiter through special near-infrared filters. The filters exploit specific colors of light that can penetrate the upper atmosphere and clouds of Jupiter, revealing mixtures of methane and hydrogen in the planet's atmosphere. These observations showed a long, fine-structured wave extending off the eastern side of the Great Red Spot.

On the same night, researchers used Subaru's Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrometer (COMICS), with filters sensitive to temperatures at different layers of Jupiter's atmosphere. These mid-infrared observations showed the Great Red Spot "had a cold and cloudy interior increasing toward its center, with a periphery that was warmer and clearer," Orton said. "A region to its northwest was unusually turbulent and chaotic, with bands that were cold and cloudy, alternating with bands that were warm and clear.

The image at the top of the page shows Jupiter as revealed by a powerful telescope and a mid-infrared filter sensitive to the giant planet's tropospheric temperatures and cloud thickness. It combines observations made on Jan. 14, 2017. The instrument used to take this image is Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrometer (COMICS) of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan's Subaru Telescope on the Maunakea volcano.

The Daily Galaxy via JPL/NASA  and ABC News 


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