You’ve Never Seen Photos of Jupiter Like This

From the first images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot to the Voyager mission, the gas giant has always fascinated humans. In 2011, the Juno spacecraft launched to let us know more about this planet’s secrets. Juno has provided some of the most jaw-dropping photos of Jupiter to date. Here’s how amazing this spacecraft is and what went into this astronomical project. You can see Juno’s jaw-dropping images of Jupiter beginning on page 9.

1. Juno is huge

Juno's solar arm with its magnetometer.
The Juno spacecraft is impressively large. | NASA/Kennedy Space Center

The Juno spacecraft is massive. As you can see in the photo above, the craft’s body dwarfs the human standing next to it. When its solar array fully extends, it’s larger than a professional basketball court. The only way they could get this craft into space was to launch it aboard an Atlas V551 rocket.

Next: You won’t believe how fast this thing traveled to Jupiter.

2. This is one of the fastest crafts we’ve ever launched

Relative speeds of human aircraft compared to the Juno spacecraft.
The spacecraft will be super quick. | NASA/JPL-Caltech

Juno is one of the fastest spacecraft we’ve ever launched into our solar system. It achieved a top speed of 165,000 miles per hour by utilizing a maneuver called a gravity assist. While that may sound mundane, it is everything but.

NASA launched Juno past the orbit of Mars where the craft began to return to the center of the solar system and then slingshot around Earth. That launched the craft to the outer reaches where it inserted into Jupiter’s orbit. Think of it as falling off a cliff, then grabbing a rope to swing you to the other side of the mountain.

Next: So how do you stop or slow down from that speed?

3. Crashing into orbit

An artists rendering of Juno in outer Jupiter orbit.
The spacecraft is being heavily monitored. | NASA/JPL-Caltech

Juno essentially crashed into Jupiter’s orbit, but don’t think of that as an accident. Mission planners pumped the brakes ever so slightly so that they could enter Jupiter’s orbit at about 130,000 miles per hour. This speed is critical in protecting the craft from seriously damaging amounts of concentrated radiation.

Next: Entering Jupiter’s orbit can be fatal due to this.

4. Jupiter and its layers of death

An illustration of Jupiter's magnetic field.
The team will be studying Jupiter’s magnetic field. | NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jupiter has a massive magnetic field surrounding it. It is just like ours, but it is so much bigger and more powerful. Like Earth’s magnetic field, charged particles follow those magnetic lines to the poles and make an incredible aurora. One of Juno’s key missions is to study that aurora. Those charged particles also create a huge amount of radiation that can damage Juno’s equipment.

Next: Juno has some cool tricks to protect itself from harmful radiation.

5. Juno’s radiation defenses

Juno's orbital mission plan.
Juno needs as much energy as possible. | NASA/JPL-Caltech

Juno brings itself over both poles of Jupiter where it passes through layers of intense radiation. The craft uses an elliptical orbit to minimize its time in that radiation. It also has a first-of-its-kind radiation shielded electronics vault.

The elliptical orbit also allows the solar array the most amount of time in the sunlight to charge. Being that far away from the sun doesn’t give the craft that much energy, so it needs every drop it can get.

Next: Here’s how they make these crazy images.

6. Each layer reveals a new detail

The aircraft in space.
The images are sure to be spectacular. | Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Every time Juno makes a pass over the poles, it takes a series of pictures in different spectrums of light. Once each of those photos is transmitted home, they are layered on top of one another to give us these beautiful images. You’ll notice in each picture a heavy skewing of red and blue colors; that is the layering process. They are also touched up a little bit to give us more clarity.

Next: Juno still has a lot of work to do.

7. Juno is at the beginning of its mission

The spacecraft in front of an image of Jupiter.
Juno hit a major milestone. | Robyn Bec/AFP/Getty Images

It’s still pretty early in the mission of the craft itself. There’s a lot of science it can still do for its mission. On Feb. 7, 2018, Juno completed its 10th pass of Jupiter. The mission has it scheduled for a total of 37 such passes. Eventually, it will de-orbit into Jupiter where it will burn up during entry.

Next: A look at Jupiter’s equally brilliant poles

8. A view of one of the poles

A look at one of Jupiter's poles.
These photos give us incredible angles that telescopes just can’t provide. | NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

The Juno mission will also let us better understand the interior of Jupiter and how it works. We don’t quite understand how materials move around inside the planet. We will discover that by mapping its magnetic and gravitational fields.

Next: Jupiter’s massive characteristic you may recognize from science textbooks

9. That ‘Great Red Spot’

The Big Red Spot seen close up.
The infamous “Great Red Spot” | NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

Jupiter has always fascinated scientists because of the whirling storms it produces. The largest of the storms is the Great Red Spot. That storm is 12,400 miles across and 7,500 miles wide. The storm may disappear soon because it is shrinking. It may have existed since 1665 when Cassini first discovered it as a permanent spot on the planet.

Next: Have you ever seen a celestial tempest?

10. The Jovian Tempest

This color-enhanced image of a massive, raging storm in Jupiter's northern hemisphere was captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft during its ninth close flyby of the gas giant planet.
Juno even captured a storm raging on in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. | NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

Another equally important mission for the Juno spacecraft is to figure out what the atmosphere is made of. It will also discover what sort of dynamics are happening within the clouds. The craft can read as deep as 100 bars of pressure, which is the equivalent of 3,345 feet of water.

Next: The auroras on this planet will blow your mind.

11. The auroras on Jupiter are literally out of this world

An image of Jupiter with a glowing blue auroras.
Researchers are hoping to learn more about Jupiter’s auroras. | Seeker via YouTube

Another experiment that is being performed on this mission is to gain a “three-dimensional structure of Jupiter’s polar magnetosphere and auroras.” Deep within the planet, hydrogen is compressed into a metallic liquid that creates a huge amount of electricity that could be generating that giant magnetosphere around the planet.

Next: You’ve never seen clouds this beautiful.

12. Jupiter’s upper atmosphere

Jupiters upper atmosphere.
The findings are sure to be exciting. | NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

One of Juno’s primary missions is to “determine the abundance of water and place an upper limit on the mass of Jupiter’s possible solid core,” according to NASA. By finding these two things out, it will settle which theory about the planet’s origins is correct. That could also help with finding out our whole solar system’s origin story and help us better understand how solar systems are formed.

Next: You would never want to sail on this planet.

13. Winds can reach up to 400 miles per hour

An image of Jupiter's winds.
It’s quite windy on Jupiter. | NASA via Instagram

There’s so much energy swirling around in that planet that winds can reach sustained speeds of hundreds of miles per hour. To put that in perspective, the highest winds we have ever recorded on Earth were 253 miles per hour. That was during Tropical Cyclone Olivia back in 1996. The winds on Jupiter blow every day and all day long.

Next: Why they named the spacecraft “Juno.”

14. Juno saw Jupiter for what he was

A statue of Jupiter seen on a clear blue day.
The planet was named after the Greek god. | Crisfotolux/Getty Images

In Roman mythology, the king of the gods was Jupiter. That is why the planet Jupiter is named so. Jupiter drew a veil of clouds to conceal himself from everyone and hide his misdeeds. His wife, Juno, was able to see through those clouds to reveal Jupiter’s true nature. That is what the Juno mission hopes to accomplish.

Next: Legos play a very significant role in this mission, and you’ll never guess how.

15. Jupiter, Galileo, and Juno all hitched a ride

Three Lego figurines of Galileo, Juno, and Jupiter.
These little figurines were attached to the crafts hull and are testaments to the story of the Jovian worlds. | NASA/JPL-Caltech/LEGO

There are three Lego figurines attached to the spacecraft. The figurines are of Galileo, Juno, and Jupiter. This is the farthest any Lego has ever traveled.

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