Cut Down To Size

Here's video footage taken of Jupiter that reminds us how incredibly small we really are

December 13, 2017

This week’s best and most inspiring news comes to us live from the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, an enormous raging crimson nightmare of a storm that’s taking place on an alien planet that would incinerate anyone who wandered near it. To recap: Today’s most gasp-worthy headline is from a planet that would kill us, which sounds weird, but wait until you see the video.

Indeed, at the close of 2017, things are still reasonably jacked: Politics continues to dominate news feeds, the murderous touch of winter has descended upon most of the country and Jake Arrieta might be going to the Phillies or, dear God, the Washington Nationals. Which is why it’s helpful to remember that, in other parts of the solar system, things are going along swimmingly. This week, NASA released a video from its Juno spacecraft, which has been in orbit around Jupiter for the past year, collecting data, shooting viral videos and — just to reiterate — being an object that humans launched from planet Earth that is currently orbiting in and around the planet Jupiter.

The video is a simulated flyby of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the unprocessably epic, Earth-and-a-half-sized hurricane that’s been brewing for at least hundreds of years and is one of the two facts you know about Jupiter. (The other is that it’s a gas giant, mm heh mm heh heh shut up Beavis.) It’s an animation, but it’s grounded in actual video shot and beamed across space from Juno, which has completed eight fly-bys of Jupiter and is on its way to its ninth.

The video will make your heart jump. It not only includes gauges to help track the simulated spacecraft’s speed and altitude, but also a bitchin’ and epic sci-fi soundtrack actually contributed by Vangelis, the artist behind the “Chariots of Fire” theme. Just to remind, this is a video, based in hard research, of what it’s like to fly into an alien hurricane. (If you’re more of a photo buff, the Juno Image Gallery is pretty stellar too, dispatching image after image of a planet that looks like galactic swirling beauty, or cream dispersing in your morning joe.)

Juno is sending back loads of fun facts, including that the storm is not only the biggest in the solar system but way deeper than any comparatively wee thunderstorm we have here on Earth. “(The storm) has roots that penetrate about 200 miles (300 kilometers) into the planet's atmosphere," says Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton. That’s 10 to 100 deeper than our planet’s crust, or the distance from New York to Boston, except down, on another planet. (Our highest clouds top out at about 10 miles.)

Moreover, the storm is swirling with wind speeds between 270 and 425 miles per hour, well higher than anything we’ve ever seen here. (All these findings were announced at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans yesterday, hopefully during a really fun parade.)

There’s still much to learn. The Juno mission launched in August 2011, and took about five years to fall into orbit around Jupiter. Its mission is to fly low over Jupiter’s pervasive cloud cover (and occasionally a little bit into it), sending back information about the planet’s makeup/structure/the component parts of the universe. You can do a virtual ride-along with the spacecraft by clicking here and remembering what it’s like to experience wonder.

Juno’s ninth science pass over Jupiter will take place on Dec. 16, while most of us here are watching Star Wars, satisfyingly. That means, with any luck, more information will beam at us over the weekend, images and findings that remind us that the fabric of the universe remains enviably divorced from all the nonsense bothering us here on Earth.

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