NASA probe witnessed a remarkable sight close to Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Storm

Jupiter's moon Amalthea in orbit

NASA’s Juno spacecraft captures images of Jupiter and captures the petite moon Amalthea circling the planet.Photo Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt

This isn’t just another stunning image of the most massive storm in our solar system, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

Take a closer look… a bit closer…

Come on, you’ll need to put in more effort than that. Dive deeper.

Do you see it now? That’s not a speck of dirt on the Juno spacecraft’s camera. That’s a moon, circling its colossal mother planet in space.

The tiny moon is Amalthea, and despite zipping past Jupiter’s reddest eye, astronomers explain that this moon is actually the reddest object in our solar system. Researchers believe its color is influenced by sulfur from the nearby Jovian moon Io, a world with active volcanoes.

The images released recently were captured as the spacecraft passed around 165,000 miles above Jupiter’s clouds in March during its 59th close approach. Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt processed the raw camera data of the probe to enhance the image clarity.

Juno is equipped with an instrument called JunoCam, not only to capture remarkable close-up shots of Jupiter but also to involve the public. The scientific team invites citizens to process the camera’s images and consults the public on what to focus on next.

Juno has been in orbit around Jupiter for more than seven years. The spacecraft is investigating Jupiter’s origins and evolution, seeking its core, mapping its magnetic field, measuring water and ammonia in its atmosphere, observing its auroras, and analyzing Jupiter’s moons and dust rings.

Close-up of Jupiter's moon in orbit

Two images of Jupiter captured by Juno in March display the minuscule Jovian moon Amalthea passing by.Photo Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt

During its initial mission, the spacecraft gathered data on the gas giant’s atmosphere and interior. One of its significant findings was the revelation that Jupiter’s atmospheric weather layer extends far beyond its water clouds.

Upon completing 35 orbits, the spacecraft transitioned to observing the entire Jupiter system, including its rings and moons. The extended mission will proceed for another year or until the spacecraft’s demise. Juno will eventually disintegrate in Jupiter’s atmosphere as its trajectory deteriorates. There is no risk of the spacecraft crashing into Jupiter and potentially contaminating its moons, some of which could harbor life.

NASA's close examination of Amalthea

Amalthea, one of Jupiter’s 95 official moons, was first spotted by Edward Emerson Barnard in 1892. It measures approximately 100 miles in width and has a lumpy, irregular shape resembling a potato due to its insufficient mass to form a more symmetrical sphere. Almost a quarter of a century ago, scientists studied this tiny moon up close with the assistance of NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, revealing a diverse world of craters, hills, and valleys.

Amalthea is located within the orbit of Io, Jupiter’s closest large moon, alongside three other peculiarly shaped miniature moons: Metis, Adrastea, and Thebe. It orbits Jupiter so closely that it takes Amalthea only half a day on Earth to complete a full circle around the planet.

This moon is a mysterious celestial body in our solar system. Scientists have noted that it emits more heat than it receives from the sun — possibly due to Jupiter’s magnetic field generating electric currents within its core or the planet’s gravity inducing tidal stresses.

Evan Brooks

Hey there! I'm Evan Brooks, a tech journalist based in New York City. With a knack for distilling complex industry jargon into engaging narratives, I've… More »

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