NASA's Juno spacecraft has captured the first images of Jupiter's north pole, revealing details that astronomers have not seen before.
The photographs reveal storm systems and weather activities that scientists have not seen in any of the other gas giants in the Solar System.
Juno took the images as it skimmed just 2,500 miles above the planet's cloud tops during the first of its series of close flybys of Jupiter on Aug. 27.
Analysis of the data collected during the six-hour transit is ongoing, but scientists have already made unique discoveries.
Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton, from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, said that the first glimpse of the planet's north pole showed nothing of what they have seen or even imagined before. Jupiter's north pole, for instance, does not look anything like the iconic marbling that is often associated with the Solar System's largest planet.
"It's bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms. There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to — this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter," Bolton said. He added that they also saw signs of clouds having shadows, which could possibly indicate that the images the probe captured were of clouds at higher altitudes compared with other features.
The images do not also depict at least one feature that Saturn, another gas giant in the Solar System, has. Saturn's north pole has a hexagon but scientists said they found nothing on Jupiter that resembles it, an indication that biggest planet in the Solar System is a one of a kind.
The Juno spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Aug. 5, 2011 and arrived at Jupiter five years later on July 4. The probe comes with JunoCam, which captured the pictures during its Aug. 27 flyby, and eight other science instruments, which include the Italian Space Agency's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JI-RAM).
JI-RAM captured views of the planet's north and south poles in infrared light showing hot spots that have not yet been seen before. JI-RAM, which provided scientists the first infrared close-ups of Jupiter, has also provided an unprecedented look at the powerful southern Aurora that the planet features.
Data gathered by Juno of Jupiter should help scientists better understand the composition and structure of the planet. This information could shed light on the formation of planetary systems.