NASA’s Juno spacecraft is the first to capture clear images of Jupiter’s polar regions and in this extreme false-colour view, a striking ring of cyclones ranging in size from 4,000 to 4,600 kilometres across (2,500 to 2,900 miles) surround a huge, persistent polar storm. A similar pattern is present in the giant planet’s south polar regions. Citizen-scientist Gerald Eichstädt assembled this composite image using JunoCam data captured during four close passes of the probe by Jupiter between 17 February and 25 July. The exaggerated colour is partly the result of combining multiple images into a single composite. Says NASA: “The colour choices in this image reveal both the beauty of Jupiter and the subtle details present in Jupiter’s dynamic cloud structure. Each new observation that Juno provides of Jupiter’s atmosphere complements computer simulations and helps further refine our understanding of how the storms evolve over time.”
Observers in the UK with clear skies around 1am BST on Tuesday, 21 May can see Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, just 4 degrees from the waning gibbous Moon low in the south-southeast. At this time both the Moon and Jupiter fit within the same field of view of binoculars magnifying less than 10×, while telescope users can also view Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
Jupiter is now less than a month from opposition (7 April), so it’s very much open season for the Solar System’s largest planet. If you’re unsure where to find it, the rising 17-day-old waning gibbous Moon passes just two degrees from Jupiter on the UK evening of 14 March. Virgo’s brightest star, first-magnitude Spica, makes it a great binocular triumvirate.
At the beginning of civil twilight on Monday, 13 November, observers in Western Europe and the British Isles should seek out a viewing location offering an unobstructed view very low to the southeast horizon to see brightest planet Venus and largest planet Jupiter separated by little more than half the width of a full Moon.