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Juno view of Jupiter
Enhanced images from NASA’s Juno orbiter show cloud patterns on Jupiter (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Brian Swift / Seán Doran Photos)

Santa Claus isn’t the only one bearing gifts from the north pole at this time of year. NASA’s Juno orbiter also delivered a sackful of presents over the holidays, but from the pole of a different planet: Jupiter.

Every 53 days, the bus-sized spacecraft makes a close encounter with our solar system’s biggest planet, as part of a mission that was launched in 2011 and reached Jupiter in 2016.

Juno’s main mission is to study Jupiter’s magnetic field and gravitational field, to give scientists a deeper understanding of the gas giant’s internal composition. But a visible-light camera called JunoCam was included on the probe, primarily to boost public outreach and education.

The latest encounter, known as Perijove 17, occurred on Dec. 21 and went over Jupiter’s north pole. One of the scientific objectives was to take pictures of the planet’s faint aurora with Juno’s navigational camera, known as the Stellar Reference Unit.

At the same time, JunoCam captured close-up views of Jupiter’s cloud tops, providing lots of raw imagery to keep image-processing gurus busy over the holidays.

Here’s a sampling of pictures from Perijove 17:

And here are a few highlights from past perijoves. Stay tuned for more in 2019!

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