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Jupiter All Set to Welcome Spacecraft Named After His Wife Juno in July


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. 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)

Research teams are gearing up as spacecraft Juno, launched in 2011 is set to touch base with Jupiter in July this year. 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 meeting in Nottingham.

Juno will send images to give snapshots of the planet and reveal how Jupiter’s atmosphere has been shifting and changing. The Juno spacecraft has travelled nearly 3000 million kilometres to reach the Jovian system.

Named after the mythological wife of the god Jupiter, who veiled himself in clouds to hide his mischief, and only Juno was able to peer through them to see his true nature.

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.”

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