Tech: NASA's $1 billion mission to Jupiter may end this summer — here are the best images Juno has taken of the giant planet so far

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An illustration of NASA's Juno spacecraft flying above the clouds of Jupiter.

The Juno spacecraft is about to execute is last two planned orbits of planet Jupiter. If NASA doesn't fund an extension of the mission by July, that could be it for the mission. With the fist mission soon ending, we've collected some of its best photos and animations.

All good things must come to a end, and Juno — NASA's $1-billion mission to study Jupiter like never before — is no exception.

The probe launched from Earth in August 2011, reached Jupiter in July 2016, and is scheduled to make its last two of 14 high-speed flybys around the gas giant in May and July.

But that doesn't mean Juno is finished beaming back astounding new photos of Jupiter. At least not yet.

For months, NASA and Juno mission managers have discussed a "continuation mission" to extend the probe's time at Jupiter and unravel even more of the planet's super-size mysteries. Scientists are hungry for more data, especially since Juno got a sticky engine valve when it arrived — a glitch that dramatically slowed the pace of its discoveries.

"I think for sure the continuation mission will go on," Glenn Orton, a lead Juno mission team member and planetary scientist at NASA JPL, told Business Insider. NASA has yet to approve funding, though, so he added: "I'm hopeful but nervous."

Should NASA decline an extension, the probe will plunge into Jupiter this summer. "Stay tuned," a space agency representative told Business Insider in an email, adding that more information about the mission will come in May.

With Juno's first (and just maybe last) mission at Jupiter ending in July, we've rounded up some of the probe's most jaw-dropping photos, data imaging, and animations.

Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system — so massive, in fact, that it doesn't technically orbit the sun.

Source: Business Insider

The world is about 318 times as massive and 1,321 times as voluminous as Earth. Few spacecraft have ever visited it.

Source: Universe Today

Juno was the first probe to fly above and below Jupiter, photograph the planet's poles, and begin to unravel their mysteries.

Source: Business Insider

The journey to Jupiter took nearly 5 years. To get there, Juno had to fly past Earth in October 2013 for a gravitational speed boost. Its photographs during the maneuver make our planet and moon look infinitesimal.


Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When Juno arrived at Jupiter in July 2016, the probe recorded the planet's largest icy moons orbiting it in sync.

Source: Planetary Society

The spacecraft soon began high-speed flybys of Jupiter, called perijoves. During each perijove, Juno takes astounding image sequences while it zooms over the north pole…

Source: Business Insider

…Shoots past the planet's equator at about 130,000 mph, and then exits over the south pole.

Source: Business Insider

Each orbit takes 53.5 days and a perijove lasts a few hours. The maneuvers help collect unprecedented data while limiting the probe's time inside Jupiter's radiation field, which can damage electronics.

Sources: Business Insider (1, 2)

NASA uploads raw image data from the probe's camera, called JunoCam, to the web. Fans of the probe process it all into colorful pictures and the occasional animation, like this one of perijove 10 in December 2017.


Source: Business Insider

"Jupiter is in constant flux so it's always a surprise to see what is going on in those cloudscapes," Seán Doran, a graphic artist and a prolific processor of JunoCam images, previously told Business Insider.

Source: Business Insider

Some users boost the saturation and contrast to pull out exquisite details of cloud bands.

Source: Business Insider

But Jupiter's gargantuan Jovian storms and the wild patterns they leave in the clouds stand out with little help.

Source: Business Insider

Photos of the Great Red Spot have been a favorite among Juno fans. The storm could easily swallow Earth, and the probe photographed it twice — once in July 2017 and again in April 2018.

Source: Business Insider

This stunning image is actually a blend of several photos captured by Juno. The image may be one of the last we get of the Spot — although the storm has lasted for centuries, it could vanish within a few decades.

Sources: Business Insider (1, 2)

Lesser-known storm cells, many of which don't have evocative names because they're so short-lived, also swirl about Jupiter.

Source: Business Insider

Scientists who study Jupiter call this nearly Earth-size storm "anticyclonic white oval WS-4."

Source: Business Insider

Many storms in Jupiter form bands and patterns that are as hallucinogenic as they are beautiful.

Source: Business Insider

Some bands leak into others, forming chaotic eddies.

Source: Business Insider

Interpretive color processing of JunoCam data sometimes makes its storms take on striking blue colors.

Source: Business Insider

Other bands create powerful chevrons that punch through cloud layers. The storm at the center of this image is many times larger than a hurricane on Earth.

Source: Business Insider

NASA described this image showing a mess of storms as a "mind-bending, color-enhanced view of the planet’s tumultuous atmosphere" in a January 2018 release.

Sources: NASA, Business Insider

Jupiter's collections of storms grow more chaotic toward each of its poles.

Source: Business Insider

The poles are regions that planetary scientists had only dreamed of seeing until a few years ago, thanks to Juno's daredevil orbits.

Source: Business Insider

This oddly symmetrical image of Jupiter's north pole was made using a combination of photos from Juno's first, third, fourth, and fifth perijoves. It also uses images from the probe's aurora-mapping instrument, called JIRAM.

Source: Business Insider

JIRAM scans Jupiter for temperature variations and electrical activity that are invisible to JunoCam.

Sources: Business Insider, NASAJuno/YouTube

Researchers have used the data to model the planet's storm-choked north pole in 3D.

Source: Business Insider

Juno has completed 12 of the 14 total orbits scheduled for its first mission — the final two will happen on May 24 and July 16. But even with an extension and a new mission, the probe won't last forever.

Source: Business Insider

NASA will eventually plunge Juno into the clouds of Jupiter to destroy it, thereby eliminating the possibility that it could crash into one of the planet's icy, ocean-hiding moons.

Source: Business Insider

It's important to avoid contaminating the subsurface oceans of Europa, Ganymede, and the other moons with bacteria from Earth — as well as any alien life that may exist beneath the ice.

Source: Business Insider

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