Juno Eyes Jupiter A 10th Time / Space Station Plies Evening Sky

Jupiter appears in this color-enhanced image as a quilt of vibrant cloud bands and storms. The dark region in the far left is called the South Temperate Belt. At right is the South Equatorial Belt, one of the planet’s most prominent features and easily visible in a small telescope as a dark “stripe.” Juno skimmed just 8,453 miles (13,604 kilometers) from the cloud tops. Click here to download a BIG version. NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

Swirls, storms and belts, oh my! NASA released several new photos recently from the Juno spacecraft’s tenth close flyby of Jupiter on Dec. 16, 2017. Juno travels in a highly elongated orbit around Jupiter once every 53 days. For just two hours during that time, it loops in close to the planet’s polar regions to grab data and take astounding images. That closest point is called perijove, when the probe skims just 2,100 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops while zipping by at 129,000 miles an hour (57.8 km/sec).

Juno took this image of colorful, turbulent clouds in Jupiter’s northern hemisphere on Dec. 16, 2017 from 8,292 miles (13,345 km) above the tops of Jupiter’s clouds. Juno has four close passes or perijoves left before the mission is over. The next will be Feb. 7. NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran

The images feature a new view of Jupiter’s north polar belt region and a unique, wide-angle perspective (top) on the planet’s cloud belts. It’s hard to take our eyes off the swirling storm clouds that festoon so much of the planet. They look so Van Goghian. We see only Jupiter’s cloud tops. Whatever solid surface the planet might have lies deep below thousands of miles of clouds and thousands more of liquid metallic hydrogen, a weird form of hydrogen that’s so highly compressed by the weight of all the material above it that it transforms into a liquid that can conduct electricity.

The spacecraft was about 5,600 miles (8,787 kilometers) from the cloud tops as it flew over Jupiter’s northern polar regions. You’ll find lots more images hereNASA/SwRI/MSSS/Björn Jónsson

Upper level clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere are made of ammonia ice crystals (it’s cold out there half a billion miles from the sun) with deeper layers composed of ammonia laced with sulfur and even water ice. You can see the this bizarro world for yourself every morning at dawn. Jupiter rises around 2 a.m. in late January and stands high in the southeastern sky around 6-6:30 a.m. local time. It’s the brightest object in that direction — can’t miss it. A 3-inch (75mm) telescope will show the most prominent cloud belts as dark streaks across Jupiter’s pale yellow disk.

“Hello Little Rock, Memphis, Jackson, New Orleans, Birmingham, Miami, and many places in between! So ran the greeting from @Astro_Sabot, otherwise known as Mark Vande Hei, with this image taken from aboard the International Space Station in December. NASA

Skywatchers finally have the International Space Station (ISS) back for easy evening viewing. It’s always fun to watch the station pass over your location and picture the (currently) six astronauts on board conducting experiments, eating dinner or lolling around in the cupola staring back at Earth. The ISS speeds around the Earth about every 90 minutes at over 17,000 mph and looks like a very bright star moving from west to east.

You can easily get predictions for passes at Heavens Above. Find your city then click the ISS link for a table showing times, altitudes, etc. If you click on a particular date, a map pops up showing its path across the sky. When a path is incomplete, it means the satellite disappears in eclipse — it moves into Earth’s shadow. You can also use NASA’s Spot the Station website. Type in your town’s name then click the yellow circle to zoom into the pinned locations. Click a blue pin for sighting opportunities.

ISS viewing opportunities extend through mid-February.

7 Responses

  1. Cindy

    I’m having a hard time finding the ISS flyover times. I have always used the Simple Satellite site but am having no luck with it the last week or so. Any suggestions?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Cindy,

      You can times from either of the two links I posted in the blog. You’ll find the links in the second to last paragraph.

  2. Susan

    Hi, I’m new to all this and have my first telescope, last night I was looking at a very bright twinkling object at 11.20pm from the U K, easterly direction, I can only say that when I zoomed in I could see something that reminded me of the CND symbol but without the bottom line, the outer edge circle was small spotted lights and the centre was black, sorry I can’t be any more descriptive, but I have no idea whether it was a space probe, planet or star. Just wondering if this sounds familiar to you? Any help would be great, I’d just love to know what I was looking at.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Susan,

      Here’s what I think you saw. If the star you were looking at was low in the eastern sky and bright, it would have been Arcturus. The shape you saw sounds like a bright star viewed out of focus through a telescope. Out of focus stars look like large, shimmering disks with a dark circle in the middle. Try pointing it at the star again and playing with the focusing knob. You know you’re in focus when the star’s as tiny and as close to looking like a bright point of light as it can be.

      1. Susan

        Hi, thank you Bob, I did get a tiny light when I focused on it, but it was not what I expected it became a tiny dot with black centre and very bright outline like a ring, then when I tried to zoom in it just looked like an upside down Y very odd, but thank you I’ll look up again tonight see if I can see it again.

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