Earth just got its very first up-close look at Jupiter, and she sure is a beauty.
The shot shows some of the atmospheric features on the massive planet, including its infamous Great Red Spot–the location of an epic storm that’s been raging for centuries. Three of Jupiter’s four largest moons can also be seen, including Europa.
The shots are courtesy of NASA’s Juno Spacecraft, which was launched in 2011. It’s sole mission was to get closer to Jupiter than we ever have before. And it only recently arrived all these years later (the image above was taken from 4.3 million kilometres away).
Even though the $1.1 billion probe was headed for the largest planet in our solar system, getting there certainly wasn’t easy. Jupiter is basically like a real life version of the Death Star. Because of the speed at which the planet spins (it takes only 10 hours to complete a rotation), combined with Jupiter’s strong force of gravity, the planet essentially flings nearby space rocks and other debris in all directions–in other words, at Juno. It also blasts all objects (re: Juno) that near its surface with an amount of radiation equivalent to getting 100 million dental X-rays at once. Did we also mention the lung-clogging supply of methane and ammonia in its atmosphere?
Yeah, rough ride.
Yet somehow, despite all odds, the little spacecraft that could entered Jupiter’s atmosphere last week and gracefully slipped into its orbit.
“We’re there. We’re in orbit. We conquered Jupiter,” Juno chief scientist Scott Bolton said during a post-mission briefing.
The reason NASA is so intrigued by Jupiter is because it could hold many answers about Earth and the solar system around us. Jupiter is believed to be one of the first planets that formed in the Milky Way, and could hold clues to what may have created Earth. They also want to know how much water exists, and if the planet has a solid core.
Additionally, scientists want to know why Jupiter’s infamous mark–its giant red spot–has been shrinking. After all, it’s now about half the size it was in the late 1800s.
Juno will scope out the planet in an effort to shed some light on these mysteries right up until 2018. After that, the probe will self destruct. That’s NASA’s way of
saying thanks preventing Juno from crash-landing on one of Jupiter’s moons, which are believed to be some of the most promising places when it comes to the possibility of finding life outside of Earth.
You can learn more about the mission in the video above.