NASA Juno Spacecraft Snaps ‘Reddest Object In The Solar System’

NASA Juno Spacecraft Snaps ‘Reddest Object In The Solar System’
NASA Juno Spacecraft Snaps ‘Reddest Object In The Solar System’

Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstadt processed a JunoCam image that reveals tiny moon Amalthea in … [+] front of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing by Gerald Eichstädt

Mars is a famously red object in our solar system, but it’s not the reddest. That honor goes to Amalthea, a tiny moon orbiting around massive gas giant planet Jupiter. NASA’s Juno spacecraft snapped Amalthea in March, giving us a rare view of a curious mini-moon the space agency called “the reddest object in the solar system” in a statement on May 13.

Juno captured the views on March 7 during a close flyby of Jupiter. The images highlight one of Jupiter’s most famous features: the Great Red Spot, a huge, long-lived storm famous for its color. One of the images captures the Great Red Spot with Amalthea appearing as a dark dot above it. Amalthea has a radius of 52 miles and is shaped like a potato. Its orbit keeps it close to Jupiter.

Jupiter’s wild atmosphere is on full display. Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstadt processed the original Juno images for color and clarity. NASA makes Juno’s raw images available for the public to download. “We invite citizen scientists to explore new ways to process these images to continue to bring out the beauty and mysteries of Jupiter and its moons,” said NASA on its JunoCam site.

Two views of Jupiter include tiny moon Amalthea. The moon is a dark dot in front of the Great Red … [+] Spot in the image on the left and appears in the lower right corner in the image on the right.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing by Gerald Eichstädt

Amalthea is small but unusual. It may get its red hue in part from sulfur contamination from the moon Io. The moon’s redness doesn’t show up well in the recent Juno images, so you’ll have to take NASA’s word for it. Not only is the moon very red, but it gives out more heat than it gets from the sun. The heat quirk is a bit of a mystery. “This may be because, as it orbits within Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field, electric currents are induced in the moon’s core,” NASA said. “Alternatively, the heat could be from tidal stresses caused by Jupiter’s gravity.”

Juno arrived at Jupiter in 2016 on a mission to study the gas giant and its many moons. Amalthea is in good company. Jupiter has 95 officially recognized moons. Jupiter’s moon Europa is considered a good place to look for signs of life. NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission will zoom in for a close study of the icy moon. It’s one of the four biggest moons in orbit around the gas giant. The others are Io, Ganymede and Callisto. You can see them from Earth with binoculars and good viewing conditions. Amalthea, however, is tricky to spot even when you have a spacecraft.

NASA’s Galileo mission imaged Amalthea in 1999. Large impact craters are visible.

NASA/JPL/Cornell University

American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard discovered Amalthea in 1892. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft imaged the moon several times starting in 1996. Galileo’s work revealed impact craters and valleys on the moon’s surface.

The future isn’t so rosy for the little red moon. “Since Amalthea is so close to its parent planet its orbit will eventually decay and it will fall into the planet,” said NASA in an explainer. Juno also won’t last forever. The solar-powered spacecraft is in an extended mission phase that’s set to last through September 2025 or until Juno reaches the end of its life. It shares a fate with Amalthea. Juno will eventually burn up in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Until then, it will continue to wow space fans and scientists with up-close explorations of a fascinating planet and its companions.

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