Juno transmits first intimate snapshots of Jupiter

Spacecraft reveals details of gas giant’s poles, auroras

Jupiter's north pole

CLOUD CURLS Jupiter’s northern pole is covered in whirling clouds in this image captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on August 27.


Swirling clouds blanket Jupiter’s northern and southern poles in the first closeup images of the planet taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Such intimate views of Jupiter have never been seen before.

Juno snapped a shot of the gas giant’s northern side in an August 27 flyby, from a distance of 195,000 kilometers. The prominent bands that ring Jupiter’s middle fade at the poles, replaced with hurricane-like whorls. The poles are nearly invisible from Earth, making a specialized space mission like Juno necessary to capture such rare images.

Jupiter’s poles are unlike those of its fellow gas giant, Saturn. That planet has a giant cyclone encircling each of its poles (SN: 11/8/08, p. 9).

During the flyby, Juno’s eight science instruments were furiously collecting data. An infrared camera imaged Jupiter’s southern aurora, observing the phenomenon in detail for the first time. And another instrument recorded 13 hours of radio emissions from Jupiter’s auroras, which scientists converted into an eerie-sounding audio clip (listen to the audio clip in video below).

Juno is designed to study Jupiter’s interior, to better understand what lies beneath its clouds (SN: 6/25/16, p. 16). The spacecraft arrived at Jupiter on July 4. Its science instruments were switched off during its approach, so this is the first nearby glimpse scientists have seen. Juno will perform 37 orbits of Jupiter during its mission.

AURORA AUDIO Juno captured 13 hours of radio waves emitted from Jupiter’s auroras, which are similar to Earth’s northern and southern lights. In this video, the radio waves are converted into sound. The graph shows the frequency of the radio emissions versus time. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Editor’s note: This story was updated September 4, 2016, to correct the date that Juno arrived at Jupiter.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

More Stories from Science News on Planetary Science