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NASA's Juno spacecraft swung by for a close pass around Jupiter on Saturday, and teased us win an amazing pic as we wait on the results. It's Science Pics of the Week!
OUT OF THIS WORLD | Science Pics of the Week - a weekly collection of the best images from science, space and beyond

Juno completes first full Jupiter pass, returns amazing pic

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Monday, August 29, 2016, 12:57 PM - NASA's Juno spacecraft swung by for a close pass around Jupiter on Saturday, and teased us win an amazing pic as we wait on the results. It's Science Pics of the Week!

NASA Juno, Jupiter is ready for its closeup

Back on July 4, NASA's Juno spacecraft slipped into orbit around our solar system's largest planet, Jupiter. Since then, the probe has been on a long loop, traveling far out from Jupiter and then swinging back in, and it completed its first full orbit, and first close pass with cameras on, on the morning of Saturday, August 27.

While the orbital insertion part of the mission had some tense moments for the mission team (as well as for those of us watching them), Saturday's pass will be very different, and very exciting.

"This is the first time we will be close to Jupiter since we entered orbit on July 4,"  Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, said in a NASA statement. "Back then we turned all our instruments off to focus on the rocket burn to get Juno into orbit around Jupiter. Since then, we have checked Juno from stem to stern and back again. We still have more testing to do, but we are confident that everything is working great, so for this upcoming flyby Juno's eyes and ears, our science instruments, will all be open."

Watch below: Juno's imagery of Jupiter and its moons, over roughly a month of the mission so far.

According to Emily Lakdawalla, of The Planetary Society:

This animation consists of about a month's worth of JunoCam data taken during Juno's first long orbit of Jupiter. It has been processed in an automated fashion to align the color channels and dramatically increase the visibility of the moons. The automated process breaks down when moons get close to the planet, so they appear to "wink out" as they cross the planet's disk. Future versions will address this issue. Data: NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS. Processing by Gerald Eichstaedt.

The movie includes images taken up until August 11. Below is one of the newest images, taken on August 23, from a distance of 4.4 million kilometres.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

According to NASA:

The image on the left is a color composite taken with Junocam's visible red, green, and blue filters. The image on the right was also taken by JunoCam, but uses the camera's infrared filter, which is sensitive to the abundance of methane in the atmosphere. Bright features like the planet's Great Red Spot are higher in the atmosphere, and so have less of their light absorbed by the methane.

During Saturday morning's flyby, Juno passed over Jupiter's cloudtops at a distance of only 4,200 kilometres - the closest any mission has come, and the closest Juno will come on any orbit during its primary mission!

So, the view of the planet Juno is expected to return from this pass - and thus the closest pictures of the planet ever - promise to be breathtaking.

Update: NASA has reported that Juno's first full orbit of Jupiter has been completed without incident, and images taken by the spacecraft are being downlinked and processed. For the moment, here is the latest image, taken as Juno was inbound, from a distance of just over 700 thousand kilometres.

The image appears slightly washed out, colour-wise, due to the nature of the pictures JunoCam returns. Since the spacecraft spins as it travels - a necessity to stabilize its motion - the images it takes are split-second snapshots, rather than the concentrated long-exposure images that telescopes or other spacecraft have been able to take. However, the truly spectacular pictures will be coming in soon: close-ups of Jupiter's cloudtops from the closest distance any spacecraft has imaged the planet!

Camera captures gigantic jet over storm cloud

Taking photos of lightning are often spectacular, but it's not often you see something like this...

That's no meteor! While watching and photographing this year's Perseid Meteor Shower, something unexpected happened: a gigantic jet erupted from a nearby cloud. The whole thing was over in a flash -- it lasted less than a second -- but was fortunately captured by an already-recording digital camera. Gigantic jets are a rare form of lightning recognized formally only a few years ago. The featured high resolution color image, taken near the peak of Shikengkong mountain in China, may be the best image yet of this unusual phenomenon. The same event appears to have been captured simultaneously by another photographer, further away. The gigantic jet appears to start somewhere in a nearby thundercloud and extend upwards towards Earth's ionosphere. The nature of gigantic jets and their possible association with other types of Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) such as blue jets and red sprites remains an active topic of research. Image Credit & Copyright: Phebe Pan #jet #nightsky #photography #beautiful #nasa #explore

A photo posted by NASA Exploration Systems (@explorenasa) on

Gigantic jets are an extreme form of blue jet - a discharge of electric charge that goes upwards from the storm's top rather than within the cloud or between the cloud and ground. The vibrant colours of the jet are due to the discharge ionizing air molecules at the heights above the storm, similar to how solar particles produce the lights of the auroras. A relatively "new" phenomena to us, blue jets were first discovered in 1989, and gigantic jets captured for the first time in 2001. They are thought to be associated with vigorous thunderstorms, but not necessarily with lightning discharges within the cloud or to the ground.

Sources: The Planetary SocietyNASA | NASA Exploration

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