NASA's Juno spacecraft captures ominous images of black spot on Jupiter's surface

Before you start sputtering about HAL 9000, monoliths and Europa, that's Io's shadow we're looking at.


NASA’s Juno spacecraft has captured new images of the biggest planet in the solar system, Jupiter in pictures, is stunning as always.

While everyone would usually ooh and ahh about the planet's alien beauty, something in the most recent images caught everyone's eye. There is an ominous black dot on Jupiter's surface.

Before you start pointing fingers and sputtering about monoliths and Europa, though, the answer is actually rather lame.

While one theory doing the rounds suggests that the dot is a black hole, that's simply not possible, primarily because black holes smaller than Jupiter aren't known to exist. More importantly, black holes are massive, high-energy objects that have powerful consequences on objects in their neighbourhood. Any object close enough to a black hole falls into it and gets ripped apart by the immense gravity of the black hole.

The black dot is, in fact, the shadow of Io, its moon, falling on Jupiter.

The images were taken by the Juno's onboard camera, JunoCam, from about 8,000 km above Jupiter’s surface, during Juno's 22nd perijove, the point in Juno's (or any satellite's) orbit at which it is closest to Jupiter's core.

Io, one of Jupiter’s moon and one of the most volcanically active bodies in the solar system, and its surface is covered in sulfur. The volcanoes are caused by Jupiter and its strong gravitational pull on Io. Gravity causes friction and heat on the moon and causes the rocks to melt.

NASAs Juno spacecraft captures ominous images of black spot on Jupiters surface

The shadow that was seen on Jupiter by Juno satellite. Enhanced to highlight features, clouds, colours, and the beauty of Jupiter. image credit: NASA/JunoCam

Io is a little bigger than Earth’s moon but Jupiter is 11 times the size of the Earth, making the shadow seem relatively small.

A solar eclipse takes place when the moon comes in front of the Sun, blocking out its light. The moon then casts a shadow on the planet, in this case, Jupiter.

About Juno

Jupiter has 79 moons, of which 53 have been named. Out of these, scientists on Earth are only interested in its four moons — the so-called Galilean satellites Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Juno’s main goal is to understand Jupiter, its origin and evolution and how giant planets help in the formation of the solar system.

Artist illustration of the Juno satellite with Jupiter in the background. image credit: NASA

Artist illustration of the Juno satellite with Jupiter in the background. image credit: NASA

The spacecraft was launched in 2011 and took five years to reach its destination in 2016. It has an elliptical orbit that lasts 53 days which puts it in close contact with the planet. Juno swoops in close to Jupiter to observe and then backs off to a safe distance of eight million kilometres. Its instruments are placed inside titanium coverings to protect them from radiation.

The mission is said to end by July 2021 and the satellite will be destroyed in Jupiter’s atmosphere to avoid contaminating the moons.

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