This past Monday, NASA’s June spacecraft made its eighth flyby of the planet Jupiter. Not only did the spacecraft manage to capture images of the Great Red Spot, but it did so by getting as close as 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers).
Possibly observed as early as 1665, The Great Red Spot has been under continuous observation since 1830. The storm, an amazing 1.3 times the size of Earth, has long captured the public imagination and has fascinated scientists for years. “For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorizing about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we are finally going to see what this storm looks like up close and personal.”
Originally launched in 2011, the Juno probe reached Jupiter on July 4th, 2016 and has completed a series of orbital flybys since its arrival. NASA scientists hope to combine the images captured from the spacecraft and with data gathered from ground-based telescopes to determine exactly what is happening deep within the planetary storm. While scientists know that storms like this are common on gas giants, they have yet to determine what gives the spot its unique red color. Though theories have ranged from the presence of complex organic molecules to a variety of sulfur compounds, these new images and data will hopefully give scientists better insight into the planet.
Lucky for us space fans, NASA has already begun to release the raw images for our viewing pleasure. While what exactly is making the storm spin may take scientists years of research to understand, we’ll thankfully have these images to look at in the meantime.