Jupiter's secrets set to be unearthed

Jupiter, in infra-red (ESO/NASA)
Jupiter, in infra-red (ESO/NASA)

It takes a Very Large Telescope to take good photos of a very large planet, a very long way away.

The alternative is spending $1.6 billion on sending a spaceship 3 billion kilometres across space to get a closer view.

But NASA's attitude is why not both? Its probe Juno is due to arrive at the gas giant next month, but for now it's teamed up with the European Southern Observatory to release new images of Jupiter taken from here on Earth.

The photos show Jupiter in visible and infra-red light, and were taken by the ESO's Very Large Telescope, which is actually based in the Atacama Desert in Chile, taking advantage of its clear skies and high altitude.

They have given astronomers a sneak peek at what Juno should expect to find.

Jupiter's secrets set to be unearthed

This one shows the Jovian surface in infra-red.

"Observations at different wavelengths across the infrared spectrum allow us to piece together a three-dimensional picture of how energy and material are transported upwards through the atmosphere," says Leigh Fletcher of the University of Leicester.

Thousands of photos were taken, with the best -- those least affected by the Earth's atmosphere -- chosen to make up the final image.

Jupiter's secrets set to be unearthed

These two photos, showing different sides of the solar system's largest planet, don't reveal Jupiter's real colours. Instead, the blue areas show are where it's cold and the skies are clear, while the orange bands are warm and cloudy. The whiter areas are warm and clear, and the dark regions are cold and cloudy (such as the planet's famous giant red spot).

Jupiter's secrets set to be unearthed

These two pics show Jupiter in infra-red (left), and a high quality visible light photo taken by amateur space-watcher Damian Peach at around the same time.

"The combined efforts of an international team of amateur and professional astronomers have provided us with an incredibly rich dataset over the past eight months," says Glenn Orton, who's involved in the Juno mission.

"Together with the new results from Juno, [the images] will allow researchers to characterise Jupiter's global thermal structure, cloud cover and distribution of gaseous species."

Juno is named after the Roman god Jupiter's wife, who was said to be the only one able to see through his cloudy veil.

It launched in 2011, and will arrive at Jupiter on July 4. It's hoped it will reveal what lies inside the planet, how much water it has, how it was formed and what's behind its 600km/h winds.

Juno will be only the second probe to orbit Jupiter, following Galileo, which was deliberately burned up in the planet's atmosphere in 2003, to avoid contaminating its moons, which could possibly harbour life.