MIAMI • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has released a series of stunning images of a raging storm on Jupiter, known as the Great Red Spot, snapped earlier this week as an unmanned probe zipped by.
The Juno spacecraft flew over the storm late on Monday, offering humanity's closest look yet at the iconic feature of our solar system's largest planet.
"For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorising about Jupiter's Great Red Spot," said Dr Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "Now we have the best pictures ever."
Scientists hope to learn more about what drives the storm, and Dr Bolton said it would take some time to analyse the data captured by Juno's eight instruments as it passed over the tempest a height of 9,000km.
Juno was launched in 2011 and began orbiting Jupiter last year. Its next flyby is planned for early September.
"These highly-anticipated images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot are the 'perfect storm' of art and science," said Nasa's director of planetary science, Dr Jim Green. "We are pleased to share the beauty and excitement of space science with everyone."
Juno's images are part of the mission's outreach to the public, inviting "citizen scientists" to download the pictures for tweaking and enhancing.
"The more we zoom into the Great Red Spot, the more turbulent it seems to be," said scientist James O'Donoghue of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "In some of the processed images, we can clearly see anti-clockwise rotating cells within the giant storm itself - storms within storms."
Scientists will use Juno's other instruments to gather clues about the storm and how far down into the atmosphere it extends.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES