Jupiter awaits arrival of Juno

June 27, 2016, ESO
In preparation for the imminent arrival of NASA's Juno spacecraft in July 2016, astronomers used ESO's Very Large Telescope to obtain spectacular new infrared images of Jupiter using the VISIR instrument. They are part of a campaign to create high-resolution maps of the giant planet to inform the work to be undertaken by Juno over the following months, helping astronomers to better understand the gas giant.This false-color image was created by selecting and combining the best images obtained from many short VISIR exposures at a wavelength of 5 micrometers. Credit: ESO/L. Fletcher

A team led by Leigh Fletcher of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom are presenting new images of Jupiter at the UK's Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Nottingham.

Obtained with the VISIR instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope , the new images are part of a focused effort to improve understanding of Jupiter's atmosphere prior to the arrival of NASA's Juno spacecraftJuno spacecraft in July this year.

The campaign has involved the use of several telescopes based in Hawaii and Chile, as well as contributions from amateur astronomers around the world. The maps do not just give snapshots of the planet, they also reveal how Jupiter's atmosphere has been shifting and changing in the months prior to Juno's arrival.

The Juno spacecraft was launched in 2011, and has travelled nearly 3000 million kilometres to reach the Jovian system. Spacecraft can collect data free from the limitations affecting telescopes on Earth so with that in mind, it might seem surprising that this ground-based campaign was considered so important.

Leigh Fletcher describes the significance of this research in preparing for Juno's arrival: "These maps will help set the scene for what Juno will witness in the coming months. Observations at different wavelengths across the infrared spectrum allow us to piece together a three-dimensional picture of how energy and material are transported upwards through the atmosphere."

Capturing sharp images through the Earth's constantly shifting atmosphere is one of the greatest challenges faced by ground-based telescopes. This glimpse of Jupiter's own turbulent atmosphere, rippling with cooler gas clouds, was possible thanks to a technique known as lucky imaging. Sequences of very short exposures were taken of Jupiter by VISIR, producing thousands of individual frames. The lucky frames, where the image is least affected by the atmosphere's turbulence, are selected and the rest discarded. Those selected frames are aligned and combined to produce remarkable final pictures like the ones shown here.

Glenn Orton, leader of the ground-based campaign in support of Juno's mission, elaborates on why the preparatory observations from Earth are so valuable: "The combined efforts of an international team of amateur and professional astronomers have provided us with an incredibly rich dataset over the past eight months. Together with the new results from Juno, the VISIR dataset in particular will allow researchers to characterise Jupiter's global thermal structure, cloud cover and distribution of gaseous species."

Whilst the modern Juno's mission to unveil the mighty Jupiter will bring new and highly anticipated results, its way has been paved by ground-based efforts here on Earth.

Explore further: Spectacular VLT images of Jupiter presented just days before the arrival of the Juno spacecraft

Related Stories

Juno spacecraft crosses Jupiter / Sun gravitational boundary

May 30, 2016

Since its launch five years ago, there have been three forces tugging at NASA's Juno spacecraft as it speeds through the solar system. The sun, Earth and Jupiter have all been influential—a gravitational trifecta of sorts. ...

NASA's Juno spacecraft burns for Jupiter

February 4, 2016

NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft successfully executed a maneuver to adjust its flight path today, Feb. 3. The maneuver refined the spacecraft's trajectory, helping set the stage for Juno's arrival at the solar system's ...

NASA troubleshooting Jupiter-bound spacecraft

October 10, 2013

NASA says it'll spend the next several days diagnosing a problem with the Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft that appeared after it buzzed past Earth to propel itself toward the giant planet.

Recommended for you

Birth of massive black holes in the early universe revealed

January 23, 2019

The light released from around the first massive black holes in the universe is so intense that it is able to reach telescopes across the entire expanse of the universe. Incredibly, the light from the most distant black holes ...

Astronomers discover an unusual nuclear transient

January 23, 2019

An international group of astronomers has detected an unusual nuclear transient in the nucleus of a weakly active galaxy. The new transient was identified by the OGLE-IV Transient Detection System and received designation ...

Scientist sheds light on Titan's mysterious atmosphere

January 23, 2019

A new Southwest Research Institute study tackles one of the greatest mysteries about Titan, one of Saturn's moons: the origin of its thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere. The study posits that one key to Titan's mysterious atmosphere ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.