These new high resolution pictures and maps of Jupiter are made with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large telescope in Chile, show a unique infrared wavelengths glowing on the planet just a week ahead Nasa mission’s arrival. These maps show the updated temperatures, cloud coverage and composition of Jupiter’s atmosphere and according to the pictures, the planet is experiencing huge storms.
These pictures were taken constantly in the period between February and June 2016, to calculate and measure Jupiter’s atmosphere ahead the Juno’s arrivals, by using a so called “lucky imaging”, according to Dr. Leigh Fletcher from Leicester University. The scientists use sharp frames, extract them from short movies of Jupiter and freeze the turbulent motions of our own planet, as a result such amazing cloud layers of Jupiter are created.
The team made observation from different wavelengths, made optimization for different features and cloud layers in atmosphere of the planet in order to create such global spectral maps of Jupiter from Earth. The main goal is to use these maps to assist in making the whole scene for what Juno will be the only witness in the next few months. Once June is in the orbit, it will skim 5000 km above Jupiter’s clouds once in two weeks and it is going to be too close to provide global coverage in a single image. But the teamwork of amateurs and professional astronomers gave a chance to see a really rich dataset for the last eight months. Now with the new results delivered by Juno, the whole new data will allow the researches to characterize Jupiter’s global thermal structure, cloud cover and even determine the distribution of gaseous species.
The major questions that interest scientists is to find out what exactly causes Jupiter’s atmospheric changes, and how the weather changes that we witness now are connected with hidden processes inside the planet?
The Juno will enter the polar orbit flying to 4, 667 km of Jupiter’s cloud tops and will enter the gas giant on July 4th, after five years and 1.4 billion mile journey from Earth. But this is going to be the first time spacecraft reaching Jupiter so close, as the previous ones failed the mission. The risky part of the project is that Juno will have to handle the circuit frying radiation storm, formed by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field. But Juno is prepared and has special radiation hardened wiring and sensor shielding as well. And the brain of Juno, which is a spacecraft computer, is totally secured with armored vault, made of titanium and weighs around 172 kg. As one of the investigators has mentioned: the scientists are not looking for trouble, but for data only.
The previous record for such a close approach to Jupiter was performed by American space agency Nasa’s Pioneer 11 spacecraft, which managed to pass by the planet in the distance of only 43, 000 km in 1974. The most recent attempts to orbit the planet was done by only one spaceship – Galileo. As a further safeguard, Juno is programmed to follow a long orbital path that avoids Jupiter’s radiation belts as much as possible. Juno has been launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 5, 2011 and is a part of a Nasa’s New Frontiers program of robotic missions which last year got very close pictures from the planet Pluto.