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Hubble Monitors Jupiter in Support of the New Horizons Flyby

The Hubble Space Telescope has recently taken images of the planet Jupiter in support of its sister NASA Mission - New Horizons. The New Horizons spacecraft is en route to Pluto, and made its closest approach to Jupiter on February 28, 2007.  Jupiter is giving New Horizons a gravity assist that will save three years on its journey to Pluto.  The New Horizons spacecraft will fly by the Pluto system in July of 2015.  After studying Pluto and its moons Charon, Nix and Hydra, New Horizons will go on for a hoped-for encounter with a yet-to-be-discovered Kuiper Belt object.  A countdown clock on the New Horizon's Mission page ( patiently counts down the days until it reaches Pluto, only about 3000 more to go!

During the New Horizons Jupiter fly-by, the spacecraft captured astonishing images of the planet and its largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.  The Hubble Telescope, orbiting above the Earth also took images, before, during and after New Horizon’s close pass.  Hubble’s ultraviolet capabilities, in particular, made it possible to study Jupiter’s aurorae while the New Horizon’s spacecraft sampled the solar wind in situ.

This month’s Heritage image is an aesthetic composite made from ultraviolet- and visible-light images of Jupiter taken with Hubble from February 17-21, 2007.  The glowing aurorae near Jupiter’s North and South Poles were imaged using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys' surviving ultraviolet camera.  Jupiter’s ever-changing cloudtops are seen through blue and red filters with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera.  In this dramatic image, Jupiter shows a novel array of cloud features including the recently formed Little Red Spot, a smaller version of Jupiter’s well-known and long-lived Great Red Spot.  Atmospheric features as small as 100 miles (160 km) across can be discerned.

The aurorae are produced when charged particles from the Sun become trapped in Jupiter's powerful magnetic field. They cause hydrogen to fluoresce high in Jupiter's atmosphere, near the planet's magnetic poles.  

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgment: H. Weaver (JHU/APL) and A. Simon-Miller (NASA/GSFC)