New Horizons at Jupiter

By Phil Plait | May 2, 2007 7:10 pm

PSA: Hey, don’t forget to register to win the Sam Neill DVDs!

New Horizons is one of the fastest probes ever launched by humans. Even so, it’ll take another eight years to get to Pluto, its primary target. But it would take longer if it didn’t steal energy from Jupiter in a process called a gravity assist (it catches up to Jupiter from behind, if you will, and absorbs some of Jupiter’s orbital momentum, accelerating the probe a lot and slowing Jupiter an eensy weensy bit).

But the folks who run the NH program aren’t ones to let an opportunity pass — or to pass an opportunity. They aimed NH’s very sophisticated cameras at the monster planet and took a set of incredible images (there are 4 gigabytes of images in all, and 70% have been sent back so far).

There were many purposes for getting the images. There are still lots of things we don’t understand about Jupiter, of course, so more data always help. Things change there all the time, so getting images at any time is good. Also, it helps to calibrate the cameras on New Horizons. I spent many years calibrating instruments on board Hubble, and so I know that if you don’t understand how your equipment works, you can’t get any good information out of them.

But they also took pictures because they’re pretty. Check this out:

That’s the moon Europa rising over Jupiter’s limb. The planners took that picture not because they could get good science, but because they knew it would be stunning. Stanley Kubrick couldn’t have done better!

But like I said, things change. Io is a volcanic moon, constantly erupting as its insides are churned up by tides from the other moons. When NH passed, the volcano Tvashtar was spewing sulphur into the sky:

Wow.

And finally, how can I ignore my own namesake, Oval BA, Red Spot Junior? The last image below is highest resolution color image ever taken of it.

For a sense of scale, the Earth would fit easily inside the frame of this picture. Jupiter does things BIG.


There are tons more images on the New Horizons site, and they are all incredible, and all worth looking at. Man, just 8 more years. I can’t wait!

Comments (41)

  1. Quiet_Desperation

    Offtopic: Something in this post is dragging down every browser I try, from IE6 on Windows to Safari on Mac. Something Macromedia-ish.

    Bring back HTML 1.0, I say. :(

    >>> Jupiter does things BIG.

    Not as big as Texas, son.

  2. >>Not as big as Texas, son.

    Isn’t Texas one of those tiny little US provinces, smaller than Alaska, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, NWT and Nunavut? :)

    Cool pics though. New horizons fails to disappoint!

  3. old amateurastronomer

    To Quiet_Desperation:

    Have you tried Firefox? I don’t have any troubles with this site, well hardly any… Though, every once in a while… No, No, that was on the evil twin of this site GoodAstrology!?!

    Siriusly, only once in while, when Dr. Plait makes some small tweak to the site do I have any problems, but it doesn’t last very long.

    As for the New Horizon mission, I hope I’m still around when it reaches Pluto, the new major minor planet or is it a minor major planet. Then what is Jupiter, a Major Major Planet!! Gack, gotta stop these late night internet sessions.

  4. CR

    I am the very model of a model major general… or however that goes…
    Yeah, I gotta stop these late-night sessions, too!

    Getting to the Jupiter pics… I thought that shot of Oval BA was a pic of the GRS until I read the description. WOW! Just wow!

    And yes, the shot of Europa rising over Jupiter’s limb is beautiful, and is a new favorite of mine.

    I’ve been taking up tons of disc space saving some of the Cassini pics of Saturn & its moons; now I’ll be doing more of Jupiter, now that there are new ones.

    And like Phil, I can’t wait to see Pluto!

  5. Alaskan

    “Not as big as Texas, son.”

    Now, don’t go listening to this guy. Texas is just another one of those small, crowded, eastern states.

  6. Lo'ihi

    Oval BA:

    Looks like Munk and Van Gough joined hands. The theme certainly mellowed from ‘Scream’, but can’t quite place its title.

    Are the colors for real? What an artsy giant….!

  7. Apu Illapu

    I can’t believe you can all fall for this New Horizons hoax!
    I distinctly remember seeing the first picture in some movie. Cannot remember the title, but that name Kubrick does ring a bell. The last one of a so called junior spot or something is nothing more than that: some spot on a canvas. You can clearly see the brush marks and the canvas texture if you zoom in by 1600% or so.
    But the most telling is the shot of the “volcano” on “Io” (Tvashtar? Can’t they come up with a better name than that?). Why is it that the “dark side” has so much light that you can bloomin’ read a paper? Huh? And why are the volcano’s “plumes” blown by the wind to one side? Huh?
    Talk about some bad astronomy…

  8. Peter B

    I’m intrigued by how sharp Jupiter’s horizon is in the first photo. I’m used to seeing an atmospheric blur on the horizon in photos taken in space of Earth’s horizon, and I suppose I expected the same effect on Jupiter.

  9. Stuart

    Of course, Jupiter is all atmosphere.

    Maybe it’s a scale thing. Maybe the upper, not-entirely-opaque layers (if they exist) are just two thin, relative to the enormous girth of Jupiter, to show any blurring.

    This is pure speculation on my part, performed while avoiding doing my job. ;-) Anybody care to let me know if I’m remotely on tracl? Thanks

  10. Stuart

    Oh! My! Non-existant! Diety!

    Did I just spell “too” as “two”?

    Someone, please shoot me now…

  11. Kullat Nunu

    The detail and three-dimensional effect of the Tvashtar plume is simply incredible if you look at a larger version of the image!

  12. Wow. These images are remarkable. I wonder, when you consider that there’s actually good science coming from the flyby, if NASA administrators also factor in the tertiary value of a mission as well as the primary objective when signing off costs.

  13. Maldoror

    Peter B and Stuart, I assume that the standard exponential formula for atmospheric density with height is applicable: n = n0 e^(-mgh/kT). So because g is much larger than on Earth, combined with the sheer size of Jupiter, there is much less blurring.

  14. Is Tvashtar really spewing sulfur, like volcanoes on earth?

    I think I’ve read many place that it was thought to be something like water. Or maybe I am confusing with another moon around Saturn?

  15. Ok.

    I used the Internets, and found this: http://www.planetaryexploration.net/jupiter/io/volcanism_on_io.html
    Which clearly states that its Sulfur, and Sulfur dioxyde… my wrong.

    The ice spewing volcano is on Enceladus, orbiting Saturn…

  16. I like how all the Google ads on this blog entry are for real estate in Jupiter, Florida.

    Maybe programmers could use a little more Kubrikian imagination.

  17. Kullat Nunu

    Is Tvashtar really spewing sulfur, like volcanoes on earth?

    Yes, if I recall correctly the material is sulfur. There is no water on Io.

    I think I’ve read many place that it was thought to be something like water. Or maybe I am confusing with another moon around Saturn?

    Yes, you’re confusing it with Enceladus which has water geysers on its south pole. Io and Enceladus are the only satellites that are known to have active volcanism. Titan is most likely also volcanically active, but we don’t have direct evidence yet.

  18. Gary Ansorge

    ACK! So many gigabytes, so little bandwidth.
    I’m thinking seriously about upgrading from 1.5 Mbit DSl to 6 Mbits. I’ve been told(bySouthern Bell) that’s fast enough for live, unbroken, video feeds. Wonder if that’s really an accurate assesment?

    Cool pics.

    GAry 7

  19. ArchFerdinandDuke

    I didn’t think you could get to Jupiter in 13 months. Thought it took at least 13 months to get to Mars.

  20. Donnie B.

    >> I didn’t think you could get to Jupiter in 13 months. Thought it took at least 13 months to get to Mars.

    That all depends on how fast you go. New Horizons is going a good deal faster than earlier probes, since it has a very long way to go.

    Why do I keep hearing Also Sprach Zarathustra when I look at that image of Europa rising?

  21. Smart_Cookie

    That color shot is as good as any painting.

    I want to get a poster-size print of it and hang it on the wall!

  22. Quiet_Desperation

    Disclaimer:

    I’m not from Texas.

    Felt a need to add that.

  23. Crux Australis

    Donnie, perhaps because Also Sprach Zarathustra is only the coolest piece of music from any SF flick in history.

  24. A couple of the smaller ranches in Western Australia is the size of Texas.

  25. Although the ranches are called stations, the cowboys are called jackaroos and the cows are called sheep :-)

  26. Lo’ihi Says: “Oval BA: Looks like Munk and Van Gough joined hands. The theme certainly mellowed from ‘Scream’, but can’t quite place its title.”

    Planety Nights.

    Don’t forget Europa’s Mondrian impression…

    - Jack

  27. Stealing energy from Jupiter eh

    I am surprised someone did not claim this would perturb Jupiter in its orbit and make it crash into the Sun or us.

    Maybe I can get in on this new doomsday market, anyone know who Bart uses as his publishing house? ;)

  28. I’m always annoyed when would be NASA naysayers talk about how space research fails to accomplish anything. I don’t bring up the myriad discoveries we’ve made, the vast technological advancements, the international prestige or the military edge that our nation’s experience in space has given us.

    No, I say, “We get beautiful pictures and flying in space is badass. Name me another federally sponsored program that gives you both of those?”

  29. Troy

    I’m glad they are open to taking art/non-scientific pictures. The unique perspective of space is more than science and even though it is a robotic probe we are there. I do wish they had more color images, I suppose it take 3 times the bandwidth to send such an image but it is worth it, especially since there won’t be anything else out the window for a very long time. Amazing how fast the flight was to Jupiter! Best wishes and thanks to Dr. Stern and the New Horizons team.

  30. CR

    Re: active volcanoes on other moons in the Solar System… I thought Neptune’s large moon Triton also has them.

  31. Nigel Depledge

    Stuart said:
    “Of course, Jupiter is all atmosphere.”

    Not quite. Current models have it possessing a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen over a small, rocky core.

    See here: http://www.nineplanets.org/jupiter.html

  32. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:
    “…one of the fastest probes ever launched by humans…”

    Hey, whaddya mean one of the fastest? I thought NH was the fastest. Is it, or not really?

  33. Lo'ihi

    ‘Don’t forget Europa’s Mondrian impression…’ -Jack

    Aah, many Europas ago…

  34. DenverAstro

    Neil posted: Current models have it possessing a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen over a small, rocky core

    Could someone please tell me what “Liquid Metallic Hydrogen” would look/feel like if you could hold some in a cup? Would it look/act like mercury? I simply cant visualise something I know of as a noble gas being a metallic liquid…

  35. SCR

    Kullat Nunu: “Yes, you’re confusing it with Enceladus which has water geysers on its south pole. Io and Enceladus are the only satellites that are known to have active volcanism. Titan is most likely also volcanically active, but we don’t have direct evidence yet.”

    Triton too, Kullat Nunu, has volcanic activity – geyers erupting .. well I think its nitrogen or methane – cyrovulcanism of a weird variety anyhow. They’e spotted a whole lot of dark streaks and I think also some of the actual plumes.

    What Triton can do I think Pluto-Charon can do as well -now okay Pluto’s not a moon but Charon is – although if you want to get really picky and call it a double-planet .. okay, double dwarf planet .. Anyay, Ithinkwe’ll find a few other moons (Dione, Iapetus around Saturn for instance) show signs of geologicc activityinvolving resurfacing by flowing material – whether you term them volcanic or not .. is up to you! ;-)

    Moreover, our our Moon was very volcanic at one stage – all those flat dark areas (mare or “seas”) were once seas of molten lava. So that’s another one … Whats that then :

    1) Io
    2) Enceladus
    3) Triton
    4) Luna (our Moon -at least in the past and perhaps even today if TLP are really related to volcanic activity there.)
    5) Titan – almost certainly …
    6) Charon -probably? (I’d expect it although we won’t know for sure till New Horizons gets there!)
    6) Dione -possibily? (if liquid water made of most likely water ice can be called volcanism)
    7) Iapetus & some of the other Saturian moons … (ditto)
    8) Perhaps Ganymede – etherinpast or prenert at a low level …

    Hmmn okay now I’m speculating but still .. seems a lot more than just Io and Enceladus tho’ they are the most dramatic examples.

    Thanks Alan Stern and teh NewHorizons team -awesome images &welldone -thanks tooBA for posting them for our enjoyment. :-D

  36. SCR

    DenverAstro Says: (May 5th, 2007 at 6:36 pm) “Neil posted: Current models have it possessing a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen over a small, rocky core

    Could someone please tell me what “Liquid Metallic Hydrogen” would look/feel like if you could hold some in a cup? Would it look/act like mercury? I simply cant visualise something I know of as a noble gas being a metallic liquid…”

    It wouldn’t stay liquid metallic Hydrogen (lm-H) for long in a cup at room temperature and pressures that’s for sure! ;-)

    It exists deep beneath the clouds in Jupiter becauseof that planets immense gravityand conseq2uent extremely high pressures. My understanding is its electro-magnetically conducting hence generating tehradiowaves and magnetosphere of Jove which is pretty colossal.

    Maybe they’ve been able to make some in a lab somewhere … I’m not sure. But pour it into a cup and it’ll most likely flash back to gaseous state striaghtaway. Possibly taking you with it in a big BOOM! ;-)

    Don’t now if that helps much but …

    The internal structure of Jupiter is still mysterious – we have a number of different theories about it and it appears its core is paradoxically much smaller than that of Saturn and the other gas giants – saw a diagram in anastronomy mag once depicting this.

    Read that one theory is that its the size of Earth and probably molten by the intense central heat , but squashed spherical by the pressure. Another theory suggest the carbonaceous asteroids and cometary material common in the region it formed may imply itcould be tarry, carbon-rich, relatively small object or even as Arthur C. Clarke sugested in the ‘Space Odyssey’ series composed of diamond.

    Whatever the Jovian core is I gather it’ll be a very, very, v-e-r-y, looo-ong time before we can find out for sure! (Theories are well & good but I can’t see us visiting it … or getting much evdence conclusively on its composition other ways.)

  37. Nigel Depledge

    DenverAstro said:
    “Could someone please tell me what “Liquid Metallic Hydrogen” would look/feel like if you could hold some in a cup? Would it look/act like mercury? I simply cant visualise something I know of as a noble gas being a metallic liquid…”

    Well, I think SCR is right; it can only exist at extremely high pressures, and it then behaves like a group I metal. Incidentally, hydrogen is not considered a noble gas, as it is extremely reactive. It is explosive in air at almost any concentration.

  38. MaDeR

    Not very-very long. Reference: read about JUNO.

  39. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ MaDeR : But JUNO is NOT going to visit Jupiter’s *core* is it!

    It won’t even visit the gas giants outermost wisps of atmosphere – unless briefly as part of an aerobraking maneuver.

    If JUNO gets funded and launched eventually it will be fantastic but it will be visiting Jupiter’s moons and observing the planet’s uppermost skin only. ;-)

    - Messier Tidy Upper aka StevoR aka SCR wa-ay back then.

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