The U.S. space agency yesterday released still images and movies of the biggest planet in the solar system. Coinciding with a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Orlando, Fla., the images from the New Horizons spacecraft represent the most detailed look ever at Jupiter and its moons. The opportunity to use the planet's enormous gravity well as a slingshot to propel New Horizons on a path toward Pluto and the distant objects of our planetary system rewarded scientists with the clearest, most detailed images to date, according to a public statement from NASA.
"The Jupiter encounter was successful beyond our wildest dreams," said Alan Stern, principal investigator for the New Horizons mission. "Not only did it prove our spacecraft and put it on course to reach Pluto in 2015, it was a chance for us to take sophisticated instruments to places in the Jovian system where other spacecraft could not go. It returned important data that adds tremendously to our understanding of the solar system's largest planet and its moons, rings and atmosphere."
Equipped with the latest imaging and sensor technology, New Horizons made more than 700 separate observations of the Jovian system during its fly-by from January through June of this year. These resulted in several new discoveries that researchers will be poring over for years to come. According to NASA, New Horizons delivered evidence of: lightning near the planet's poles, the life cycle of fresh ammonia clouds, boulder-size clumps speeding through the planet's faint rings, the structure inside volcanic eruptions on its moon Io, and the path of charged particles traversing the previously unexplored length of Jupiter's long, magnetic tail.
The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons is now approximately halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, more than 743 million miles from Earth.
To learn more about the latest data from Jupiter, please visit the New Horizons site on the Web.