The Juno spacecraft's initial close encounter with the planet Jupiter shows densely clustered swirling storms atop both poles and a planet with a magnetic field much larger than expected, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said in a press release on Thursday.
Juno's camera spotted the chaotic weather at the top and bottom of Jupiter once it began skimming the cloud tops past year. A time-lapse of Juno images reveals that the ovals are cyclones, some of which reach diameters up to 870 miles across.
"We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating", Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement.
"Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new", said Bolton.
It's made five close passes over Jupiter so far for science collection, the most recent last week; they occur about every two months given Juno's extremely oblong orbit.
During Juno's next flyby on July 11, the spacecraft will pass directly over the planet's Great Red Spot, a massive storm south of the equator that has existed for centuries.
"The idea of seeing those little cloud features full of ammonia and water ice, it's like it's snowing on Jupiter and we're seeing how it works", Bolton said. That said, scientists are looking forward to answering these questions as the Juno mission progresses.
Juno is in a polar orbit around Jupiter, and the majority of each orbit is spent well away from the gas giant.More news: Iran's Rouhani says missile tests will continue 'if necessary'
This sequence of enhanced-color images shows how quickly the viewing geometry changes for NASA's Juno spacecraft as it swoops by Jupiter.
At the moment, Juno will be flying around Jupiter in a polar orbit where it remains at a reasonable distance from the planet.
And Juno was able to measure Jupiter's gravitational field. Learning about Jupiter's history should yield insights about planet formation and solar-system evolution in general, mission team members have said.
The bright greens and reds dance above the huge planet's south pole spurred on by the planet's volcanic moon Io and its interaction with the large world's magnetic field. It's also led scientists to believe Jupiter may have a "fuzzy" core - as Bolton puts it - big but partially dissolved.
Not only is the Juno mission yielding a treasure trove of science, the solar-powered craft appears to be holding up well to the planet's radiation and after being pelted with specks of interplanetary dust traveling 10 times faster than a bullet.
Among the findings that challenge assumptions are those provided by Juno's imager, JunoCam. "If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it's Juno and her cloud-piercing instruments".
Some of the most handsome data obtained during the flybys are images captured by the spacecraft's JunoCam, which showed massive storm systems on the planet, and allow scientists to understand the planet's atmosphere, climate, and its north and south poles.