With a mass of violently rotating storms swirling around its two poles the majestic greatness of the solar system’s largest planet appears, in the words of once scientist, “like nothing we’ve ever seen before”.
The storms – similar to Earth’s hurricanes – were captured twisting clockwise and anti-clockwise in these first ever dramatic images of Jupiter’s north pole and its southern aurora, taken during the Juno spacecraft’s first orbital flyby of the gaseous planet
Juno beamed back the images after coming within 2,500 miles of Jupiter on August 27, during a six-hour transit from the north pole to the south.
It looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator on the Juno project, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “The largest planet in our solar system is truly unique. We have 36 more flybys to study just how unique it really is.”
Scientists are now poring over the high-definition images, taken by the spacecraft’s on-board “JunoCam” in an effort to discover more of the planet’s secrets.
Alberto Adriani, of the Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali in Rome, one of the researchers who developed the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) that allowed scientists to acquire the images, said: “These first infrared views of Jupiter’s north and south poles are revealing warm and hot spots that have never been seen before.
“While we knew that the first-ever infrared views of Jupiter’s south pole could reveal the planet’s southern aurora, we were amazed to see it for the first time.”
Auroras are streamers of light in the sky caused by energy from the sun and electrically charged particles trapped in the magnetic field.
An intriguing result of the Juno mission was its capturing of what NASA described as “ghostly sounding transmissions emanating from the planet”.
Scientists have known about Jupiter’s radio emissions since the 1950s, but had never analysed them from such a close distance.
“Jupiter is talking to us in a way only gas-giant worlds can,” said Bill Kurth, co-investigator, from the University of Iowa.
Dr Jonathan Nichols, a Juno mission scientist from the University of Leicester, said: “We’re hearing the sounds of the magnetic field from Jupiter vibrating like strings on a guitar. When they get disturbed they ring and that’s the sound that we’re hearing. It’s been changed from radio waves into audio and it makes that great sound.
“If you were going to make up a sound that sounds like space, then that’s it.”
Dr Nichols said Juno is the first spacecraft to go in to a “polar orbit”, and is therefore the first spacecraft to get a view down onto the poles of Jupiter.
He added: “Jupiter is crazy. It’s the biggest, baddest, most dangerous place in the solar system. It’s really radioactive.”