12 Amazing Images of Jupiter

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Meet your distant neighbor

Photo: NASA

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and the fifth from the sun. The gas giant is 2.5 times the mass of all the other planets circling our sun. The planet was named for the Roman god Jupiter, who ruled over laws and social order.

Thanks to several missions by NASA — including the Juno orbiter, the Voyager and Cassini flybys, the Galileo orbiter and the Hubble telescope — we're able to understand our biggest planetary neighbor as never before.

Though the timing is murky, there are likely to be more missions to come. At one point, there was talk of Congress legally requiring NASA to launch a pair of missions to Jupiter as soon as 2022 and 2024 to study Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Why Europa? Previous missions confirmed Europa is covered in a shell of bright white ice, and the surface is fractured and frequently resurfaced, meaning there's likely a deep ocean of water underneath. And where there's water, there may be life.

In the meantime, here's a collection photos of Jupiter taken by NASA spacecraft that have flown by or orbited the planet.

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Juno

Photo: NASA/JPL/Wikimedia Commons

The Juno spacecraft has been circling Jupiter since July 2016 with the goal of improving our understanding of the planet. The solar-powered orbiter will study Jupiter's origins, interior structure, deep atmosphere and magnetosphere using an impressive suite of scientific instruments such that the world has never seen. The initial plan was to spend a total of 20 months orbiting Jupiter and then burn up in the planet's atmosphere in early 2018, but that's not what happened. The mission has been extended through at least July 2021.

The spacecraft gets a flurry of information each time it makes its closest pass to the planet, but its orbit has changed, and that's part of the reason for the continued funding, according to Space.com. Instead of information bursts every 14 days, now it's every 53 days because of an issue with a thruster valve. Still, with the continued funding, there's still much to be learned.

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'Galaxy' of swirling storms

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko

Juno took this image on Feb. 2, 2017, from about 9,000 miles above the giant planet’s cloud tops, according to NASA. It shows a large dark spot on the right side of the photo, which is actually a dark storm. On the left side is a bright, oval-shaped storm with higher, brighter clouds, which NASA describes as being reminiscent of a swirling galaxy.

"Citizen scientist" Roman Tkachenko enhanced the colors in the photo before NASA released it to the public. If you're interested in turning one of Juno's images of Jupiter into a work of art, join the JunoCam community.

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South pole

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko

The Juno spacecraft captured this image of Jupiter’s south pole and its swirling atmosphere, and the photo was color-enhanced by citizen scientist Roman Tkachenk, according to NASA. The spacecraft was looking directly at the Jovian south pole on Feb. 2, 2017, from an altitude of about 63,400 miles. The swirls are cyclones, and white oval storms can be seen on the left side of the photo.

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Great Red Spot with moon Io

NASA.

This image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 1, 2000. It reveals Jupiter's Great Red Spot (GRS) in detail. Jupiter's Great Red Spot is similar to a hurricane on Earth. The gas giant, which was first observed by Galileo Galilei in 1610, is so massive that it's larger than Earth. However, this iconic spot won't last forever. NASA predicts it will disappear in our lifetime.

The composition of Jupiter's atmosphere is similar to that of the sun, mostly hydrogen and helium. In addition to showing the planet, this photo also shows Jupiter's large moon, Io (to the left).

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Great Red Spot close-up

NASA.

This photo was taken by Voyager 1 as it flew by Jupiter in 1979. This photo reveals the different colors of the red spot, showing that clouds swirl around the spot counter-clockwise at varying altitudes. The white spots are cloudy with an ammonia haze. Since this picture was taken, NASA notes that Jupiter's clouds have brightened up considerably.

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Aurora

NASA.

This ultraviolet image comes courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope. Taken on Nov. 26, 1998, it shows an electric-blue aurora on the giant gas planet. These auroras are unlike anything we would see here on Earth. These auroras show magnetic "footprints" of three of Jupiter's largest moons, according to NASA. They are the "image from Io (along the left hand limb), Ganymede (near the center), and Europa (just below and to the right of Ganymede's auroral footprint)."

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Rare triple eclipse

NASA.

This photo, taken by the Hubble telescope in March 2004, shows a rare triple eclipse on Jupiter. The moons Io, Ganymede and Callisto are aligned across the planet's surface. Io's shadow is to the center and the left, Ganymede is on Jupiter's left edge and Callisto is near the right edge. Jupiter has 79 known moons, the most of any planet in our solar system.

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Galileo

NASA artist rendering.

This artist's rendering shows Galileo arriving at Jupiter on Dec. 7, 1995. Io is seen as a crescent moon to the left. Sent into space on Oct. 18, 1989, by the Space Shuttle Atlantis, Galileo launched the first probe into Jupiter's atmosphere. It then orbited the planet, taking observations until 2003, when NASA sent it plunging into the Jovian atmosphere. This was to avoid any chance contamination of Jupiter's moons with bacteria from Earth.

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Magnetosphere

Photo: NASA

This photo, taken by the Cassini spacecraft in 2000 as it flew by Jupiter on its way to Saturn, reveals Jupiter's magnetosphere. Jupiter has the system's strongest magnetic field, which surrounds the planet and helps creates the magnetosphere. A magnetosphere is formed when a stream of charged particles from the sun (the solar wind) is deflected by the planet's magnetic field — in this case wrapping around the planet like a giant teardrop. As NASA describes it, a "magnetosphere is a bubble of charged particles trapped within the magnetic environment of the planet." This particular bubble stretches across 1.8 million miles of space.

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Chandra examines Jupiter

Photo: NASA

On Feb. 28, 2007, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft Chandra made its closet approach to Jupiter on its way to Pluto. This image is the result of a five-hour exposure designed to explore the powerful X-ray auroras observed near the poles of Jupiter. These auroras are "thought to be caused by the interaction of sulfur and oxygen ions in the outer regions of the Jovian magnetic field with particles flowing away from the sun in the so-called solar wind," according to NASA.

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High-latitude mottling

Photo: NASA

This image was taken Dec. 13, 2000, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. It shows how the banding of Jupiter gives way to a more mottled appearance as the clouds reach higher altitudes. This tapestry effect is the result of atmospheric changes, according to NASA. Most visible clouds are composed of ammonia. The planet's "stripes" are dark belts and light zones created by strong east-west winds in Jupiter's upper atmosphere. Experts also believe Jupiter emits almost as much heat as it absorbs from the sun, and it does so more at its poles.