ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today, NASA released the first close-up pictures ever taken of Jupiter's north pole. The space agency also released a striking image of a colorful display near the planet's south pole. They were taken by the Juno spacecraft, now in orbit around the gas giant. NPR's Joe Palca has more.
JOE PALCA, BYLINE: The north pole looks totally different from the rest of the planet. It's bluer in color. You can see a lot of storms. And it's missing the bands of clouds you can see it lower latitudes. Jack Connerney of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is an investigator on the Juno mission.
JACK CONNERNEY: It looks a little squirrelly up there, to be honest with you. That's the best way I could describe it.
PALCA: Juno took the picture of Jupiter's north pole last Saturday when the spacecraft was 48,000 miles above the cloud tops. NASA also released an infrared image of Jupiter's southern aurora. The aurora occurs when energized particles from the sun interact with Jupiter's atmosphere near the planet's poles. In case you're interested, this is what an aurora sounds like if you convert it to a frequency the human ear can hear.
(SOUNDBITE OF AURORA)
PALCA: Juno went into orbit around Jupiter on July 4. But it was an unusual orbit. Not only did it fly over the poles, it also only flies close to the planet for a few hours at a time, spending the vast majority of each orbit flying far away from Jupiter. The reason for that odd orbit is the harsh radiation environment near the planet that would fry the spacecraft's electronics if it hung around too long. But it's the close-up time where Juno can get the most detailed picture of Jupiter - what it's magnetic and gravitational fields are like, whether it has a solid core and how much water there might be hiding beneath the cloud tops.
Juno is supposed to make 35 more close flybys before the mission ends in 2018. Joe Palca, NPR News.
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