Search Ames


Featured Image

Text Size

Jupiter Flyby
NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft returned images of Jupiter and its moons as the probe was flying past the solar system's largest planet during the initial stages of a planned six-month encounter. New Horizons has been using Jupiter's gravity to boost the spacecraft's speed toward the outer solar system while training cameras and sensors on the giant planet and its moons. Some of the New Horizons images were released May 1, 2007, during a NASA news conference that took place in Washington, D.C.

wide shot of Jupiter Left: Wide Shot of Jupiter -- Left: Jupiter's High-Altitude Clouds

The New Horizons Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) snapped this incredibly detailed picture of Jupiter's high altitude clouds starting at 06:00 Universal Time on February 28, 2007, when the spacecraft was only 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from the solar system's largest planet. Features as small as 50 kilometers (30 miles) are visible. The image was taken through a narrow filter centered on a methane absorption band near 890 nanometers, a considerably redder wavelength than what the eye can see. Images taken through this filter preferentially pick out clouds that are relatively high in the sky of this gas giant planet because sunlight at the wavelengths transmitted by the filter is completely absorbed by the methane gas that permeates Jupiter's atmosphere before it can reach the lower clouds.

The image reveals a range of diverse features. The south pole is capped with a haze of small particles probably created by the precipitation of charged particles into the polar regions during auroral activity. Just north of the cap is a well-formed anticyclonic vortex with rising white thunderheads at its core. Slightly north of the vortex are the tendrils of some rather disorganized storms and more pinpoint-like thunderheads. The dark "measles" that appear a bit farther north are actually cloud-free regions where light is completely absorbed by the methane gas and essentially disappears from view. The wind action considerably picks up in the equatorial regions where giant plumes are stretched into a long wave pattern. Proceeding north of the equator, cirrus-like clouds are shredded by winds reaching speeds of up to 400 miles per hour, and more pinpoint-like thunderheads are visible. Although some of the famous belt and zone structure of Jupiter's atmosphere is washed out when viewed at this wavelength, the relatively thin North Temperate Belt shows up quite nicely, as does a series of waves just north of the belt. The north polar region of Jupiter in this image has a mottled appearance and the scene is not as dynamic as the equatorial and south polar regions.

The intricate structures revealed in this image are exciting, but they are only part of the story. The New Horizons instruments have taken images of Jupiter at approximately 260 different wavelengths - providing essentially a three-dimensional view of Jupiter's atmosphere, since images at different wavelengths probe different altitudes. New Horizons is providing a wealth of data on this fascinating planet, during this last close-up view of Jupiter until the middle of the next decade. Click on the image for full-resolution.

rings of Jupiter Left: Jupiter's Rings: Sharpest View

The New Horizons spacecraft took the best images of Jupiter's charcoal-black rings as it approached and then looked back at Jupiter. The top image was taken on approach, showing three well-defined lanes of gravel- to boulder-sized material composing the bulk of the rings, as well as lesser amounts of material between the rings. New Horizons snapped the lower image after it had passed Jupiter on February 28, 2007, and looked back in a direction toward the sun. The image is sharply focused, though it appears fuzzy due to the cloud of dust-sized particles enveloping the rings. The dust is brightly illuminated in the same way the dust on a dirty windshield lights up when you drive toward a "low" sun. The narrow rings are confined in their orbits by small "shepherding" moons.

Release Date: May 1, 2007 Click on the image for full-resolution.

Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto Left: Jupiter's Moons: Family Portrait

This montage shows the best views of Jupiter's four large and diverse "Galilean" satellites as seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on the New Horizons spacecraft during its flyby of Jupiter in late February 2007. The four moons are, from left to right: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. The images have been scaled to represent to true relative sizes of the four moons and are arranged in their order from Jupiter.

Io, 3,640 kilometers (2,260 miles) in diameter, was imaged at 03:50 Universal Time on February 28 from a range of 2.7 million kilometers (1.7 million miles). The original image scale was 13 kilometers per pixel, and the image is centered at Io coordinates 6 degrees south, 22 degrees west. Io is notable for its active volcanism, which New Horizons has studied extensively.

Europa, 3,120 kilometers (1,938 miles) in diameter, was imaged at 01:28 Universal Time on February 28 from a range of 3 million kilometers (1.8 million miles). The original image scale was 15 kilometers per pixel, and the image is centered at Europa coordinates 6 degrees south, 347 degrees west. Europa's smooth, icy surface likely conceals an ocean of liquid water. New Horizons obtained data on Europa's surface composition and imaged subtle surface features, and analysis of these data may provide new information about the ocean and the icy shell that covers it.

New Horizons spied Ganymede, 5,262 kilometers (3,268 miles) in diameter, at 10:01 Universal Time on February 27 from 3.5 million kilometers (2.2 million miles) away. The original scale was 17 kilometers per pixel, and the image is centered at Ganymede coordinates 6 degrees south, 38 degrees west. Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, has a dirty ice surface cut by fractures and peppered by impact craters. New Horizons' infrared observations may provide insight into the composition of the moon's surface and interior.

Callisto, 4,820 kilometers (2,995 miles) in diameter, was imaged at 03:50 Universal Time on February 28 from a range of 4.2 million kilometers (2.6 million miles). The original image scale was 21 kilometers per pixel, and the image is centered at Callisto coordinates 4 degrees south, 356 degrees west. Scientists are using the infrared spectra New Horizons gathered of Callisto's ancient, cratered surface to calibrate spectral analysis techniques that will help them to understand the surfaces of Pluto and its moon Charon when New Horizons passes them in 2015.

Release Date: May 1, 2007 Click on the image for full-resolution.

Jupiter's moon, Europa Left: Jupiter's moon, Europa

Graphic showing additional detail of Jupiter's moon, Europa, provided by the New Horizons spacecraft during flyby of Jupiter. Released May 1, 2007. Click on the image for full-resolution.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute