NASA's Juno Has Probed Jupiter's Great Red Spot

NASA's Juno probe is the gift that keeps on giving. Just over a year after the probe finished its five-year trek to reach Jupiter, giving us some of the clearest images of the massive gas giant ever captured, Juno is still going strong and showing us new information as it circles around the planet. On Monday night, the probe flew over the Great Red Spot, an enormous ancient storm system that has been raging on Jupiter's surface for centuries, and got a camera closer to the spot than ever before.

During the fly-by, the Juno spacecraft hovered directly over the Great Red Spot, about 5,600 miles above Jupiter's gaseous clouds. The storm is larger than the Earth's diameter and has been observed by astronomers since as early as the 17th century.

As Juno sailed over the spot, its camera was able to snap images while the various scientific instruments aboard the probe were collecting all kinds of data about the storm. (The probe is decked out so it can measure the gravity field around the spot or use a microwave radiometer to peer through the clouds and see what kinds of atmospheric structures underpin the spot.)

An artist rendering of what Jupiter's Great Red Spot will look like up close.
An artist rendering of what Jupiter's Great Red Spot will look like up close.
Image from NASA

This isn't the last time Juno will pass over the spot. Once every 53 days, the spacecraft's orbit takes it close to the planet. Each future fly-by of the Red Spot will focus on a different kind of science. The point is to try to figure out why the storm that creates the spot has been churning for so long.

There may actually be some enormous mass beneath the raging storm, according to NASA scientist Scott Bolton. "Maybe there's a blob going around Jupiter that's underneath the Red Spot, and we may be able to see that," he told NPR.

(Fingers crossed that this is the exact explanation, and an enormous blob is the real reason for the storm.)

We won't know or see much in the way of fly-by results for a while, though. Juno's main antenna was pointed away from Earth during the pass, so it will be a few days before the data and the photos are transmitted back here.

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