Every 53 days, something rather wonderful happens. That’s when a small spacecraft built by us puny humans swoops past the gas giant Jupiter, returning stunning images and data.
The images returned are stupendously awesome. They come back to us as black and white raw images but, thanks to a slew of citizen scientists, they’re reprocessed into glorious vistas of the biggest planet in our Solar System.
Juno is in a swooping orbit around the gas giant, taking 53 days to swing from several million kilometers out to just a few thousand kilometers from the planet’s cloud tops. This keeps it safe from the planet’s intense radiation for most of its orbit.
Originally the spacecraft was going to be placed on a shorter orbital path. Unfortunately, a faulty valve scuppered those efforts, so it remained on its wider orbit – which means its science mission could continue until 2021, three years longer than originally planned.
It made its last pass of the planet, known as Perijove 11, on February 7 this year. And we’ve now been treated to a ton of images from this flyby, showing the planet in all its glory. You can check these out below.
Juno, of course, isn’t just a camera. It also carries a suite of instruments to study the planet’s gravity, magnetic field, and more. Together with its JunoCam, we’re painting a rather incredible picture of this world, in more ways than one.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill