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Infrared Jupiter looks hot as Juno spacecraft approaches

NASA's mission to explore the Jovian system has almost reached its destination, and telescopes on Earth are capturing some especially fiery images of the planet to help.

The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope captured this infrared image of Jupiter in preparation for the Juno spacecraft's arrival at the giant planet in July.

ESO/L. Fletcher

NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft has been cruising through space for about five years since it launched in 2011. Next month it will finally enter orbit around Jupiter to begin its study of the Jovian system. Some of the prep work here on Earth for the mission has included training big ground-based telescopes on the gas giant to piece together a map of the planet to aid in Juno's close-up exploration.

On Monday, the European Southern Observatory released the above infrared image of Jupiter that makes the planet appear as a fiery inferno. It's just one of many views that will be used to create a more complete picture of Juno's destination.

"These maps will help set the scene for what Juno will witness in the coming months," said Leigh Fletcher, of the University of Leicester, in a news release. Fletcher leads a team helping with the mapping effort. "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."

This image was created by a method similar to the burst mode that many smartphones now employ. Basically, the Very Large Telescope at ESO was used to capture a series of shots of Jupiter. Then the one for each section of the planet with the least distortion from Earth's atmosphere was chosen and stitched together with a series of the other "lucky" shots to create a full infrared view.

Juno is set to be inserted into orbit around Jupiter on July 4. For more on the mission check out the deep dive in the video below:

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