Universe Today

Webb Telescope sees Jupiter and auroras in a new light

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is designed to probe the farthest frontiers of the universe, but newly released images of Jupiter prove that the observatory can also bring fresh perspectives to more familiar celestial sights.

The infrared images reveal Jupiter’s polar auroras and its faint rings as well as two of its moons — plus galaxies in the far background. The planet’s Great Red Spot is there as well, but because it’s seen through three of JWST’s specialized filters, it looks white rather than red.

JWST’s new perspective should give scientists a better sense of how the complex Jupiter system is put together.

Cosmic Space

Jupiter and Saturn pair up to make a Christmas Star

Are you ready for a remake of the Christmas Star story? Depending on how much stock you put in historical hypotheses, this year’s solstice on Dec. 21 could bring a replay of the phenomenon that the Three Kings saw in the Gospel of Matthew.

That’s when Jupiter and Saturn can be seen incredibly close together in the night sky. If the skies are clear, the two planets will be hard to miss in southwest skies just after sunset, as seen from mid-northern latitudes. Jupiter will sparkle brighter, and Saturn will be shining only a tenth of a degree to the upper right. With a small telescope, you might be able to see both planets and their moons in a single field of view.

“Some astronomers suggest the pair will look like an elongated star, and others say the two planets will form a double planet,” NASA says in a blog posting about the Dec. 21 conjunction. “To know for sure, we’ll just have to look and see. Either way, take advantage of this opportunity because Jupiter and Saturn won’t appear this close in the sky until 2080!”


Juno probe delivers holiday treats from Jupiter

Jupiter views from Juno
Enhanced images from NASA’s Juno orbiter show cloud patterns on Jupiter (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Brian Swift / Seán Doran Photos)

Santa Claus isn’t the only one bearing gifts from the north pole at this time of year. NASA’s Juno orbiter also delivered a sackful of presents over the holidays, but from the pole of a different planet: Jupiter.

Every 53 days, the bus-sized spacecraft makes a close encounter with our solar system’s biggest planet, as part of a mission that was launched in 2011 and reached Jupiter in 2016.

Juno’s main mission is to study Jupiter’s magnetic field and gravitational field, to give scientists a deeper understanding of the gas giant’s internal composition. But a visible-light camera called JunoCam was included on the probe, primarily to boost public outreach and education.

The latest encounter, known as Perijove 17, occurred on Dec. 21 and went over Jupiter’s north pole.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Jupiter’s brown spot sparks potty humor

Jupiter cloud system
This cloud formation on Jupiter is called “Mr. Hankey.” (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Kevin M. Gill)

Jupiter’s titanic storms have spawned their share of memorable cloud features, including the Great Red SpotOval BA (a.k.a. Red Jr.) and the now-defunct Baby Red Spot. Now there’s a new spot on the map, nicknamed “Mr. Hankey.”

Mr. Hankey? The jolly cartoon poo made famous in a “South Park” Christmas episode?

Believe it: The longish, brownish storm system was the star of the show during last Thursday’s close encounter involving Jupiter and NASA’s Juno orbiter. In the days since the encounter, known as Perijove 15, the probe has been sending back Junocam’s imagery for processing by a legion of professional and amateur astronomers.

It was Kevin Gill, a software engineer and self-described data wrangler at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who gave the spot its “South Park” sobriquet in a tweet. But if you want to call the scene Jet N4, that’s OK, too.

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Enjoy July’s gems from Juno at Jupiter

Jupiter clouds
Jupiter’s clouds swirl in a view captured by NASA’s Juno orbiter during Perijove 14. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran)

NASA’s Juno orbiter made another close pass of Jupiter this week, and that means there’s another crop of stunning pictures embellished by legions of citizen scientists.

Every 53 days, the bus-sized spacecraft reaches the closest point in its orbit around the giant planet.  The latest flyby, known as Perijove 14, took place late July 15 and brought Juno within about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of the giant planet’s cloud tops.

Juno’s main mission is to measure Jupiter’s magnetic field and gravitational field, and gain insights about its internal composition. But it has a camera called JunoCam that’s specifically designed to provide data for image-processing gurus to work their magic with.

Offerings are being posted on the Juno mission’s website, and on Twitter as well.

Check out a sampling of the top tweets on GeekWire.


Discoveries boost Jupiter’s retinue to 79 moons

Jupiter moons
The oddball Jovian moon, known as Valetudo, crosses the orbits of moons that move in the opposite direction.  (Carnegie Institution of Science / Roberto Molar Candanosa)

Astronomers searching for signs of a hypothetical “Planet Nine” have instead come up with 12 new moons of Jupiter, including one that hints at a cosmic crack-up.

The discoveries were made more than a year ago, and the orbits of two of the moons were confirmed soon after they were found. It took much longer for the other 10 to have their orbits verified.

“It takes several observations to confirm an object actually orbits around Jupiter,” Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center explained in a news release. “So, the whole process took a year.”

The Minor Planet Center published the remaining 10-pack’s orbital parameters today, marking their formal acceptance as Jovian moons. That brings Jupiter’s total tally to 79 moons, easily besting runner-up Saturn’s count of 62.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Juno mission to Jupiter gets an update

Juno picture of Jupiter
Jupiter shows off its bands of clouds in an image captured during the Juno probe’s Perijove 13 encounter last month. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / David Marriott)

NASA has updated its plans for the Juno mission to Jupiter to support science operations through mid-2021, adding 41 more months to the orbiter’s planned observations. Juno arrived at the giant planet nearly two years ago and has been mapping the giant planet’s magnetic field as well as analyzing its composition.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.


Juno’s new gems highlight Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Jupiter Great Red Spot
A picture from NASA’s Juno orbiter highlights Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. (NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Seán Doran Photo / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There’s a fresh flowering of photos from NASA’s Juno orbiter, and this time they’re highlighting Jupiter’s most famous feature, the Great Red Spot.

The latest load comes from Juno’s close encounter with the giant planet on April 1. It’s known as Perijove 12, because it’s the 12th close-up photo opportunity for the probe’s science mission.

Juno’s main mission is to characterize Jupiter’s magnetic field, gravity field and internal composition, but a camera was added to the scientific payload primarily for outreach purposes. After every perijove session, the raw imagery data is sent back to Earth for professional and amateur astronomers to process.

The images are posted to the Juno mission’s website, and to social-media accounts and Flickr photostreams as well.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Juno pictures put Jupiter fans in 11th heaven

Juno picture of Jupiter
NASA’s Juno probe captured this picture of Jupiter’s swirling storms during a close pass on Feb. 7. (NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstadt Photo)

NASA’s Juno orbiter has sent back its 11th crop of close-ups from Jupiter, and that means it’s time for another eye-opening, jaw-dropping photo album created by citizen scientists.

Juno flew as close as 2,100 miles above the planet’s cloud tops on Feb. 7 for what’s known as Perijove 11, at the completion of its 10th science orbit.

NASA says this close encounter was a gravity science orientation pass, which means Juno could point its transmitters directly at Earth to downlink data in real time to the Deep Space Network’s radio antenna installation in Goldstone, Calif.

Juno’s primary mission is to study Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields, and get a better sense of the planet’s internal composition. But the spacecraft also has an imaging device known as JunoCam that’s taking pictures primarily for public consumption and science outreach.

Some photo processing mavens have gotten wickedly good at taking NASA’s raw images and making them pop. So, without further ado, check out the latest gems from Jupiter.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Juno probe’s new Jupiter pictures rate a 10

A processed picture from NASA’s Juno orbiter shows Jupiter’s mid-northern temperate belts. Click on the picture for a larger version. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Kevin M. Gill – CC BY 2.0)

It’s been just three days since NASA’s Juno orbiter had its most recent close encounter with Jupiter, but image-processing gurus are already sharing sweet views of the giant planet’s cloud patterns.

The probe was launched in 2011 and arrived at Jupiter on the Fourth of July last year. Since then, its elliptical orbit has been taking it close to the planet’s cloud tops every 54 days — an event known as perijove. Dec. 16’s photo op is known as Perijove 10.

The probe’s primary scientific mission is to study Jupiter’s magnetic field, composition and gravity field, but it also has a camera known as JunoCam that takes closeups for public consumption. JunoCam’s raw images are served up for anyone to process, and some have gotten amazingly good at it.

Get the full story on GeekWire.