Cassini: Ten years since Jupiter

By Phil Plait | January 25, 2010 7:30 am

Just a hair over ten nine years ago, the Cassini spacecraft caromed past Jupiter, stealing a tiny bit of the giant planet’s energy to hasten the space probe’s journey to Saturn. When it passed Jupiter at a distance of about 10 million kilometers (6 million miles), Cassini saw this:

cassini_jupiter

[Click to enjovianate. Seriously, the full-res picture is jaw-dropping.]

This stunning shot is actually a mosaic of 27 images: 9 images to cover the planet in a 3×3 grid, and 3 images at each location to get red, green, and blue exposures to make this near true-color image. While the Voyagers (which also flew past Jupiter) and Galileo (which orbited the planet for about 8 years) took higher-resolution images, this is the sharpest color global view of Jupiter taken.

It’s one of my favorite shots of Jupiter, too, edged out by the crescent view of the planet from Cassini (with the added bonus of a crescent Io) as it left on its way to Saturn. You can see that image and more on the Cassini Jupiter Encounter page. The probe has been in orbit around the ringed planet for a long time now, but when you peruse those gorgeous images, don’t forget that in space, you can almost always get more than just one bird with one stone.

Tip o’ the Red Spot to Carolyn Porco, who mentioned this on her Twitter feed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Cassini, Jupiter

Comments (30)

  1. Gus Snarp

    Speaking of Voyager, where are the Voyager spacecraft now?

  2. Gus Snarp

    OK, answered my own question on Wikipedia, and frankly, this is the coolest thing ever. Voyager is currently 16.596 billion km from earth, traveling at 17 km/s, with a round trip signal time of almost 31 hours. And we’re still communicating with it! How cool is that? In 1977 we were able to build a space craft that has lasted 33 years and launch it into space with a trajectory such that it would be able to use gravity assist from the planets it passed to make it (33 years later) the farthest from earth and fastest moving probe, and for it to still be functional. That’s just amazing. Maybe even more amazing than the moon landing, technologically speaking.

  3. Mapnut

    Enjovianate – nice word!

  4. Cmdr Awesome

    I love photos of Jupiter. The interface of every pair of bands have awesomely huge turbulent eddies. It’s textbook fluid mechanics…but on a scale so vast it boggles the mind. I especially love the chain of eddies off of the GRS; it’s almost too perfect, like a computer sim rather than a real flow.

    Thanks Phil!

  5. I have a question. Jupiter is always shown with the Red Spot in the lower half of the Image, does that mean that it is in the Southern Hemisphere, or do they always just do it that way?

    Also, If I looked at Jupiter through a telescope that inverts the Image, where would the Red Spot be?

  6. Gary Ansorge

    Love those cyclonic patterns to the top left of the Red Spot. I’ll bet spring on Jupiter does a lot of re-arranging of the furniture.

    GAry 7

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    While the Voyagers (which also flew past Jupiter) and Galileo (which orbited the planet for about 8 years) took higher-resolution images, this is the sharpest color global view of Jupiter taken.

    You forgot to mention New Horizons which also went by Jupiter too & photographed it as well – not so long ago at that!

    How do the New Horizon‘s Jovian images stack up against the New Horizon’s one there?

    Breath takingly marvellous image. :-)

  8. Rob

    @Nick:

    1. The Great Red Spot (GRS) is in the southern hemisphere.

    2. Depends on what kind of telescope you’re talking about… A reflector type (uses mirrors to focus the image) will invert the image (up is down, down is up) and a refractor type (uses lenses to focus the image) will flip the image left to right (left is right, right is left).

  9. Pi-needles

    @ 5.Nick :

    Also, If I looked at Jupiter through a telescope that inverts the Image, where would the Red Spot be?

    On the body of the planet Jupiter – not sitting right at either pole & probably not precisely on the equator either! ;-)

    @2. Gus Snarp Says:

    Voyager is currently 16.596 billion km from earth, traveling at 17 km/s, with a round trip signal time of almost 31 hours. And we’re still communicating with it! How cool is that?

    I’m not sure the communication signal actually has a ‘temperature’ as such but if you mean how cold is the Voyager spacecraft then I’d guess a bit above the background cosmic radiation temperature but not by much! ;-)

    Cool? Its pretty close to absolute zero! ;-)

  10. Trucker Doug

    Well, I have a new desktop image. Stunning, utterly stunning.

  11. Our most important Cassini mission – given its many kilograms of Pu-238 – is to return it to Earth, safely bury its radioisotope thermal generators in a million-year repository, and immediately vigorously condemn the completed process as being unsafe for having unkown hazards. The RTGs then must be retrieved and shot into space. After retrieval, that must be vigorously condemned for having unkown hazards We must initiate planning of multi-$billion studies RIGHT NOW.

    The only alternative is invasion by Saturn, against which our military is powerless to act for fear of collateral damages and unknown hazards.

  12. mike burkhart

    I feel that I’M in a space craft in orbit around Jupiter according to Star Trek the motion picture Voyager 6 (aka Vger) should have disapered in to the black hole and be at the planet of living machines at the other end of this galaxy recently it has been remored that the planet of living machines is the home world of the borg and they built the space ship for veger since Phill is a member of the borg hive as he keeps saying we want to know is this true? and have you sent Vger on its way back to earth yet and what the real resion you did this and do’nt tell us its so Veger could complete it mission as Spock thought well it won’t get hear untill the 23 century but the kilgons want to have a word with you about destroying three of ther battlecrusers they want you to pay for them

  13. #4, yes, a little *too* perfect. What is the real evidence that Jupiter exists? ;)

  14. Keith (the first one)

    That’s a lovely image. What I always find difficult to take in in the scale. It’s tempting to imagine in the size of the Earth, and that would already be pretty big. Yet the Earth is tiny in comparison.

    (In the same way, I always imagine the Moon larger than it actually is.)

  15. ND

    The Red Spot isn’t as red as it used to be. Bummer that, it’s a little harder to make it out in backyard scopes these days.

  16. Sri

    Wow..
    I wish somebody would invent affordable, superfast interplantary travel soon. I wanna go see the real thing.
    It sucks man..all these incredible things out there in the universe.. but we cant go see the things for real.

  17. Folks, this is probably my mistake for saying `ten years ago’ and leaving out the `almost’…but then again, it was a Tweet. Anyway, the Cassini Jupiter flyby was the eve of the year 2001…which was one of those cosmic circumstances that have convinced me I lead a charmed existence! But that means, Phil, it’s not a tad over 10 years ago, but about 11 months under 10 years ago. And to the person who said something like `How does this compare to the image taken by New Horizons?’, I have to say that I haven’t seen any NH image of Jupiter that looks as impressive as this! Yes, I ‘m prejudice, but I believe I’m also right. If I’m wrong, pls prove it.

    Oh, and don’t miss our movies, here: http://ciclops.org/view/92/Jupiter_Mosaics_and_Movies_-_Rings_Satellites_Atmosphere . Especially don’t miss the one at the bottom of the page, in 3D.

    Cheers!
    Carolyn

  18. No Carolyn, it’s my fault for somehow being congenitally unable to make a post about Saturn without making some error like that. I should get this looked into. I can’t fix the title without messing up links to the post, but I fixed the text.

    Sigh. Still, its pretty, no matter how long ago it was taken. :)

  19. Roger Wilco

    …you can almost always get more than just one bird with one stone.

    Shouldn’t that be more than one “stone” with one “bird”? Oh no, sorry, these are gas giants aren’t they.

  20. Yeebok

    Of all the lovely Cassini pictures, that is on my list of top 10 for sure. It’s just exquisite, so crisp and such lovely, wispy detail. Mmmm.. :)

    The one with Io in it just doesn’t have the cloud detail the big one does. That’s what sets it apart for me. It’s a shame the pic ‘Oct 23, 2000 Jupiter with Red Spot: True Color’ may be a nicer image if it were only larger. (Enjovianated?)

  21. Ian Regan

    For more Cassini mosaics and composites from the Jupiter encounter, there’s a thread on Unmanned Spaceflight.com that is chock-full of great images, many of which have been put together by amateurs using the calibrated and archived datasets:

    http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showtopic=1222

    Here’s one such example; a jaw-dropping mosaic of the Great Red Spot by Bjorn Jonsson:

    http://www.mmedia.is/bjj/images/jupiter_cassini_grs_caption.jpg

  22. yv

    A couple of questions: how much light is there out at jupiter and saturn? What would they look like to the average human dark-attuned eye?

    It’d be awesome if you could modify this picture and say, saturn’s to represent what we’d actually see if we were floating past with Cassini

  23. Chris E

    Got a PNG image version of this? There’s some noticeable compression loss, especially around the darkside.

  24. Pepijn Schmitz

    Instant desktop background! (Rotated and spread over three monitors… :-))

  25. Chuck

    According to the figures given, the spacecraft is now about 3 times the distance out from our sun than Pluto. and is traveling yet at about 37,000 MPH. At that rate, it slows the response time by 1 second every 6 hours.

    Of course, the speed of the spacecraft will remain unchanged UNLESS gravity acts upon it.
    I know of no gravitational sources that far out, and yet close enough to affect it.

    Interestingly, it hasn’t even traveled .02 lightyears in distance, yet.

  26. WarpSpider74

    I seriously think “enjovianate” should be added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

  27. Pretty. Another image to add to my wallpapers folder. Its good thing I have a wallpaper sideshow program.

  28. magnus

    What an amazing picture. Jupiter never ceases to amaze me, and especially this image truly makes Jupiter’s marbled, mother of pearl “surface” come alive :D Honestly, in the hi-res image, it looks like the atmosphere is moving!

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