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Jaw-dropping Jupiter: NASA's Juno mission eyes the gas giant

Intricate storm systems swirl across Jupiter's cloudy atmosphere under the watchful eye of the Juno spacecraft. Get a good look at the fascinating planet with these NASA images.

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Amanda Kooser

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1 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Mai

Jupiterrise

The hulking gas-giant Jupiter resides millions of miles away in the solar system, but it's not alone. The planet has dozens of moons, and also hosts an orbiting visitor from Earth, NASA's Juno spacecraft.

The craft's JunoCam snaps images of the fascinating, cloudy planet, and NASA makes those raw images available for anyone to download and manipulate. Juno has been in residence at Jupiter since mid-2016, and the efforts of NASA scientists and image-processing space fans offer a scintillating close look at the gas giant's swirling atmosphere.

This 2016 image shows Jupiter sunny-side-up. NASA refered to it as a "Jupiterrise." Citizen scientist Alex Mai processed the image using NASA data from Juno to really make it pop.

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2 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill (CC-BY)

Moon shadow

This might look like a hole in Jupiter, but there's a simple explanation. Jupiter's moon Io cast a scenic shadow in a NASA Juno spacecraft image snapped in late 2019. Citizen scientist Kevin Gill, also a software engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, processed the image and shared it in 2020.

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3 of 21 NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Brian Swift/Seán Doran/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

'Dolphin' in the clouds

Ready for a little pareidolia? It doesn't take too much imagination to see the dolphin-like shape in the swirling clouds of Jupiter in this fun shot from 2018. Visual artists Sean Doran and Brian Swift worked with Juno images to highlight the delightful dolphin.

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4 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

Mr. Hankey in Jupiter's clouds

It's not just dolphin shapes that form up in the clouds of jupter. This processed image of Jupiter from NASA's Juno's spacecraft got some enhancement work by citizen scientists Kevin Gill. In early 2019, Gill pointed out the resemblance of the brown formation to an infamous South Park character, Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo.

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5 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Image processing by Tanya Oleksuik

When storms merge

The two oval storms inside the orange band were caught in the act of merging in this NASA Juno image from December 2019. NASA described it as "something remarkable." Scientists had been tracking the storms and were delighted to capture the moment of merger, an event that can happen very quickly.

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6 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Image processing by Gerald Eichstädt

Psychedelic cyclones

Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstadt took NASA Juno spacecraft views of Jupiter and processed them to create this wild and crazy false-color view of the planet's north pole storms. Jupiter doesn't look like this to the naked eye, but the image processing helps us visualize the storm action. 

"The huge, persistent cyclone found at Jupiter's north pole is visible at the center of the image, encircled by smaller cyclones that range in size from 2,500 to 2,900 miles (4,000 to 4,600 kilometers)," said NASA in a statement in 2020.

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7 of 21 NASA/SwRI/MSSS/with processing by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Io shadow-bombs Jupiter

Jupiter's moon Io has a knack for shadowing its planet. Here its shadow appears as a dark spot on the gas giant in a NASA Juno image from 2019.

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8 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Image processing by Kevin M. Gill

Clyde's Spot

Clyde's Spot on Jupiter -- the scene swirling star of this image -- looked like it was doing internal somersaults in April 2021. The formation is named for amateur astronomer Clyde Foster who discovered it in 2020. It originally had a more oval shape.

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9 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Image processing by Tanya Oleksuik

Jupiter looking gorgeous

This color-enhanced image shows a NASA Juno view of Jupiter in late 2020.

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10 of 21 NASA/KSC

Hello Juno

Let's step back to 2011, when Juno was still on Earth. This photo shows the spacecraft hooked to an overhead crane as it was lowered to a fueling stand.

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, and spent nearly five years on its trip through space to reach orbit around Jupiter. NASA says the mission's aim is to "find out more about the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core."

NASA extended Juno's mission in early 2021, which means it will carry on with studying the gas giant until September 2025 or the end of its life, whichever comes first.

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11 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Approaching Jupiter

Juno snapped this image on June 21, 2016, as it neared Jupiter and prepared to jump into orbit around the planet in July. The view from 6.8 million miles (10.9 million kilometers) away shows the gas giant and its four biggest moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

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12 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko

Jupiter looks like a watercolor

Amateur astronomer Roman Tkachenko cropped and adjusted a raw Juno image to produce this watercolor-like close-up look at Jupiter's stormy atmosphere. The color processing helps to make the rotating clouds stand out. Juno took the image on Feb. 2, 2017.

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13 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt

Polar haze

This false-color image highlights Jupiter's hazy polar region. The Juno spacecraft captured this view from a distance of 285,000 miles (459,000 kilometers) from the planet in December 2016.

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14 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Sergey Dushkin

High-res Jupiter cloudscape

NASA shared this color-processed Juno image of Jupiter in early 2017, noting it has a "resolution better than any previous pictures from Earth or other spacecraft." Juno was just 5,400 miles (8,700 kilometers) from Jupiter when it snapped the picture in late 2016.

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15 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC

Lego hitches a ride

Three unusual hitchhikers accompanied Juno into orbit around Jupiter. These Lego figurines represent astronomer Galileo Galilei, and the Roman god Jupiter and his wife, Juno. "Juno holds a magnifying glass to signify her search for the truth, while her husband holds a lightning bolt," NASA noted.

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16 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/John Landino

Jupiter's complicated south pole

NASA's Juno spacecraft traveled over Jupiter's south pole to get this fascinating image in early February 2017. NASA set the scene: "This enhanced color version highlights the bright high clouds and numerous meandering oval storms. Away from the polar region, the seeming chaos of Jupiter's polar region gives way to the more familiar color banding that Jupiter is known for."

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17 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

Jupiter's southern lights

This infrared Juno image from August 2016 really stands out from the crowd. NASA described it as "an unprecedented view of the southern aurora of Jupiter." This view is normally hidden from Earth's telescopes, but Juno's orbit gave the spacecraft a good look at the planet's polar region.

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18 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Closing in on Jupiter

This subtle view of Jupiter rewards a closer look. The planet's bands of color are visible near the bottom while complex rotating storm systems appear nearer the top. The image was taken about two hours prior to Juno's closest approach to Jupiter during a flyby in August 2016.

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19 of 21 NASA

Raw Jupiter image

This picture from early February is a good example of what the raw images from Juno's JunoCam can look like. NASA makes the images available for private citizens to download and process. Some of the most eye-catching Jupiter images from the Juno mission are the result of work by citizen scientists who combine and enhance the raw images into new creations that highlight the swirls and whirls of the planet's atmosphere.

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20 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Juno rendering

NASA's Juno spacecraft doesn't have its own paparazzi riding along to take pictures of its space exploits, so we have to rely on this artist's rendering to imagine what it looks like in orbit around Jupiter.

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21 of 21 NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Eric Jorgensen

Swirling Jupiter

Juno delivered this image back to Earth after snapping it during a close flyby in December 2016. Citizen scientist Eric Jorgensen cropped the image and enhanced the color to make the intricate swirls in the clouds visible.

The bright spot in the upper left is known as a "pearl." NASA explained, "The 'pearl' is one of eight massive rotating storms at 40 degrees south latitude on Jupiter, known colloquially as the 'string of pearls.'"

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