10 years after NASA launched its Juno mission to Jupiter, these are its most stunning images of the gas giant

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An illustration of NASA’s Juno spacecraft flying above the clouds of Jupiter.

  • NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been orbiting Jupiter and taking jaw-dropping photos of the gas giant since 2016.
  • Juno has flown past Jupiter’s polar cyclones, anticyclones, auroras, the Great Red Spot, and enormous moons.
  • Citizen scientists touch up Juno’s raw images to highlight storms and clouds in stunning color. These pictures reveal the tumultuous bands of the planet’s atmosphere, from its equator to each pole.
  • The mission has also collected data that’s revealing how Jupiter has evolved over time. That history is critical to understanding the gas giants that orbit other stars.
  • Juno’s data has revealed the workings of Jupiter’s X-ray auroras, the depth of its Great Red Spot, and the immense power of its magnetic field.
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NASA’s Juno mission has been orbiting Jupiter and snapping stunning photos for more than five years.

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Jupiter, as photographed by the Juno spacecraft, in September 2017.

The spacecraft launched more than 10 years ago, on August 5, 2011. As it sped towards Jupiter, it snapped a goodbye photo of Earth, proving that its cameras were ready for space.

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The Juno spacecraft’s JunoCam caught this image of Earth as it sped past on October 9, 2011, to get a gravitational boost towards Jupiter.

Juno finally reached the giant, gaseous planet in 2016. It fell into Jupiter’s orbit that July.

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Juno snapped this photo of a “Jupiterrise” on one of its first flybys in 2016.

Since launch, the probe has traveled more than 1 billion miles, and its JunoCam instrument has taken more than 19,800 photos.

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Clouds swirl around each other on Jupiter.

Juno beams the raw data to Earth as black-and-white photo layers that represent red, blue, and green.

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A raw image of Jupiter in blue, green, and red, captured August 6, 2021.

Then citizen scientists merge the layers and process them to make colorful portraits. They enhance the colors to highlight different bands of Jupiter’s atmosphere, storms, and clouds.

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Jupiter’s reddish-orange North North Temperate Belt, with two gray-colored anticyclones, May 23, 2018.

Juno’s orbit takes it far from Jupiter, then swings it back towards the planet for close flybys. In those flybys, the probe has flown by Jupiter’s north pole, where eight storms rage around a giant, Earth-sized cyclone at the center.

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A composite infrared image from the Juno spacecraft shows cyclones at Jupiter’s north pole, February 2, 2017.

The planet’s south pole is no less stunning. Juno gave us the first close-up pictures ever taken of Jupiter’s poles.

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A photo of Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

Seen together, the series of photos that Juno snaps during each flyby enables image processors – like Seán Doran, who created this composite – to show the spacecraft’s journey.

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Images from Juno’s April 2018 flyby, approaching Jupiter.

The successive images show Juno zipping from one pole to the other in just a few hours, approaching Jupiter and then flying away.

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Images from Juno’s April 2018 flyby, leaving Jupiter.

But Juno’s mission isn’t about pretty pictures. It’s looking for clues about how Jupiter formed and how it evolved over time.

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That history can help scientists learn about the beginnings of our solar system and give clues about Jupiter-like gas giants orbiting other stars.

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Jupiter’s swirling clouds.

Juno measured Jupiter’s magnetic field for the first time, finding it far more powerful than scientists expected. Jupiter’s magnetic field is 10 times more powerful than the strongest field on Earth.

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A mass of swirling clouds on Jupiter.

A year after its arrival, Juno zipped past Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a raging storm near the planet’s equator. It discovered that this cyclone goes 200 miles deep – that’s 50 to 100 times as deep as Earth’s oceans.

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Scientists animated this 2017 Juno image of the Great Red Spot based on velocity data from the spacecraft and models of the storm’s winds.

Cyclones spin in the same direction as the planet, but anticyclones spin in the opposite direction. Both are found all over Jupiter, in varying sizes.

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A white anticyclone swirls on Jupiter’s surface on April 1, 2018.

Juno has also spotted the aurora ribboning across Jupiter’s south pole – like auroras on Earth, but hundreds of times more powerful. Unlike other planets’ auroras, Jupiter’s emit powerful X-rays.

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Jupiter’s southern aurora in infrared, August 27, 2016.

In June, the spacecraft flew past Jupiter’s icy satellite Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system. Scientists think that Ganymede harbors an ocean beneath its surface, which means it could harbor life.

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This image of Ganymede was obtained by the JunoCam imager during Juno’s June 7, 2021, flyby of the icy moon.

Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt compiled Juno’s imagery into a time-lapse video of its June flyby, which took the spacecraft past Jupiter and Ganymede.

The video lasts three minutes and 30 seconds, but in reality, it took Juno nearly 15 hours to travel the 735,000 miles between Ganymede and Jupiter, then about three additional hours to travel between Jupiter’s poles.

Juno has also captured the shadow of Jupiter’s volcanically active moon, Io, passing between the planet and the sun. Altogether, Jupiter has 79 moons.

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Jupiter’s volcanically active moon Io casts its shadow on the planet, September 11, 2019.

Juno was originally set to push itself to a fiery death in Jupiter’s atmosphere this July, but NASA extended its mission through September 2025. It now plans to zip past the moons Ganymede, Io, and Europa.

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A cyclonic storm captured during Juno’s 23rd flyby of Jupiter, November 3, 2019.

In the process, Juno is sure to beam back more photos of the largest planet in our solar system.

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Colorful swirling cloud belts in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere, December 16, 2017.

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A mesmerizing NASA video lets you ride with the Juno spacecraft as it flies by Jupiter and its largest moon

NASA's Juno spacecraft in orbit above JupiterÕs Great Red Spot is seen in this undated handout illustration obtained by Reuters July 11, 2017.  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS
An illustration of NASA’s Juno spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been beaming photos of Jupiter back to Earth since 2016, but a new video shows what the view might look like from inside the probe as it flies past Jupiter’s roaring cyclones and giant storms.

The footage also offers a front-row look at Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede – an icy orb larger than Mercury.

Juno flew within 645 miles of Ganymede last week – the closest any spacecraft has gotten to the moon in more than two decades. (The last approach was by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 2000.) Less than a day later, Juno conducted its 34th flyby of Jupiter, snapping photos along the way.

Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt compiled images from both of those journeys into a time-lapse video that shows what it’s like to pass by the celestial bodies. The video lasts three minutes and 30 seconds, but in reality, it took Juno nearly 15 hours to travel the 735,000 miles between Ganymede and Jupiter, then about three additional hours to travel between Jupiter’s poles.

Take a look at the video below:

The beginning of the footage reveals Ganymede’s cratered surface, marked by dark patches that likely form as ice changes directly from solid to gas. If you look closely, you can see one of Ganymede’s largest and brightest craters, Tros, surrounded by white rays of ejected material.

When it captured those images, Juno was traveling at a speed of roughly 41,600 miles per hour. But as the spacecraft got closer to Jupiter, it picked up speed: The planet’s gravity accelerates Juno to nearly 130,000 miles per hour during its flybys.

The video shows Jupiter’s turbulent surface emerging from the dark abyss of space like a watercolor painting. White ovals indicate a set of giant storms in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere known as the “string of pearls.” (There are five of them in the video.) Flashes of white light represent lightning.

“The animation shows just how beautiful deep-space exploration can be,” Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, said in a statement.

He added: “Today, as we approach the exciting prospect of humans being able to visit space in orbit around Earth, this propels our imagination decades into the future, when humans will be visiting the alien worlds in our solar system.”

Juno has already solved some of Jupiter’s mysteries

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Jupiter.

Juno flies in an elliptical orbit around Jupiter, getting close to the planet once every 53 days. Its recent close pass to Ganymede, however, shortened that orbit to 43 days.

The spacecraft’s main goal is to gain insight into Jupiter’s origins and evolution by mapping its magnetic fields, studying its northern and southern lights (or auroras), and measuring elements of its atmosphere – including temperature, cloud movement, and water concentrations.

The spacecraft entered Jupiter’s orbit in July 2016. (Jupiter is roughly 390 million miles away from Earth.) Its mission was initially supposed to end this month, but NASA has extended Juno’s lifespan through 2025.

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Jupiter as seen by the Juno probe during its 10th flyby.

Juno’s previous flybys have yielded important discoveries, like the fact that most of Jupiter’s lightning is concentrated at its north pole. The spacecraft also found that storms tend to appear in symmetrical clusters at Jupiter’s poles, and that the planet’s powerful auroras produce ultraviolet light that’s invisible to human eyes.

Just this week, Juno’s measurements helped scientists figure out why these auroras form in the first place: Electrically charged atoms, or ions, “surf” electromagnetic waves in Jupiter’s magnetic field before crashing into the planet’s atmosphere.

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NASA’s Juno probe at Jupiter beamed back close-up photos of the planet’s largest moon, Ganymede, for the first time in 2 decades

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The Juno spacecraft (left) flew past Ganymede (right) on Monday.

Grey, heavily cratered, and peering out from the black of space, Ganymede looks a lot like our moon. But the icy rock is more than 400 million miles away – it’s the largest moon in the solar system, and it circles Jupiter.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been rocketing around Jupiter since 2016, but on Monday, it zipped past Ganymede, coming within 645 miles of the moon. No spacecraft had gotten that close in more than two decades – the last approach was NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 2000.

In just 25 minutes, Ganymede went from being a distant point of light from Juno’s vantage point to a looming, round disk, then back to a point of light. It was just enough time for the probe to snap five photos.

NASA released the first two images on Tuesday; they’re the most detailed snapshots ever captured of the gargantuan moon.

“This is the closest any spacecraft has come to this mammoth moon in a generation,” Scott Bolton, who leads the Juno spacecraft team, said in NASA’s press release. “We are going to take our time before we draw any scientific conclusions, but until then we can simply marvel at this celestial wonder – the only moon in our solar system bigger than the planet Mercury.”

Scientists believe that Ganymede may host an ocean of salty water 500 miles beneath its icy shell – which would hold more water than Earth does. It’s also the only moon in the solar system with its own magnetic field, which creates an aurora at its poles. Scientists hope the Juno flyby will help them learn more about both Ganymede’s ice shell and its magnetic field.

The first Juno image, below, captures almost an entire side of the ice-encrusted moon. Each pixel covers about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer).

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This image of Ganymede was obtained by the JunoCam imager during Juno’s June 7, 2021 flyby of the icy moon.

This image is just from the Juno camera’s green-light filter. In the coming days, NASA expects to receive more images from the spacecraft, including those captured with its red- and blue-light filters. That will allow the agency to create a colorful portrait of Ganymede.

Juno’s black-and-white navigation camera also snapped a photo, below, of Ganymede’s dark side.

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This image of the dark side of Ganymede was obtained by Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit navigation camera during its June 7, 2021 flyby.

It’s visible thanks to light scattered from Jupiter.

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