Yesterday NASA started publishing the first raw photos of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot taken by the Juno space probe during its July 10 flyby. All the scientific instruments were active but JunoCam is the one that has obtained the most spectacular results with the pictures of the iconic storm larger than the Earth. From now on, many fans started processing the images by contributing to the NASA database.
The Great Red Spot has a size of about 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) from north to south and about 24,000 kilometers (15,000 miles) from east to west. It existed for centuries: a constant monitoring began in 1830 but it’s almost certain that it’s the same storm described repeatedly long before up to 350 years ago. Modern observations show that it’s shrinking, a further reason to keep it under observation and to make it a specific target during the mission of the Juno space probe, which entered Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016.
On July 10 the Juno space probe reached its closest vicinity to Jupiter, at about 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) of altitude. After nearly 12 minutes it passed over the clouds of the Great Red Spot and at that point it was about 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) above it. From that location, it took a series of photos of the giant storm and later started sending it along with other data.
Juno isn’t the first space probe to take photos of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot: in the 1970s the Pioneer 10 and 11 and later the Voyager 1 and 2 studied this planet until the 1990s and at the beginning Of the 21st century with the Galileo space probe. However, Juno is boldly going where no space probe had gone before, also with its flybys and the July 10 one was in particular about the Great Red Spot.
JunoCam is turning out even more useful than expected for scientific research but is collecting outstanding results for public relations. For many citizen scientists are watching the photos is not enough, they also want to work on them and in the case of the Great Red Spot this began practicaly right after NASA started publishing them in a section of its website.
It’s been 20 years since the relationship between fans and NASA started on the web, since the Internet risked freezing in early July 1997 because too many users were looking for the photos taken when the Pathfinder mission’s lander after it landed on the planet Mars. Times have changed but Juno’s Great Red Spot flyby shows that the enthusiasm is still remarkable and there’s still all the scientific research to be conducted using the collected data.