Like Van Gogh: Jupiter's Swirling Clouds Captured by NASA's Juno Spacecraft

An incredible image of Jupiter's swirling clouds has been released by NASA, revealing "dramatic atmospheric features" from the planet's northern hemisphere.

The image, captured by the Juno spacecraft, shows the clouds surrounding a circular feature inside a jet stream region. It was taken on February 12 as Juno performed a flyby of the gas giant. At its closest point, the spacecraft came within 8,000 miles of Jupiter's highest clouds.

Jupiter
Image of Jupiter's clouds. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

Social media users were quick to point out the similarity between the image and a painting by the post-Impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh.

Starry Night Van Gogh
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The image was created by citizen scientist Kevin M Gill, who used data from the onboard JunoCam. Raw images from the Juno mission are available to the public here.

Jupiter is the biggest planet in the solar system. It is so big, it is twice the size of all the other planets combined. "Jupiter's familiar stripes and swirls are actually cold, windy clouds of ammonia and water, floating in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium," NASA said.

The latest image shows cloud within a jet stream region named Jet N6. Understanding the jet streams on Jupiter could provide scientists with an insight into the atmospheric conditions found on other planets—research from March last year revealed that the winds on Jupiter run deep into the planet's atmosphere, and that they last longer than equivalent processes seen on Earth.

"Galileo viewed the stripes on Jupiter more than 400 years ago," Yohai Kaspi, Juno co-investigator from the Weizmann Institute of Science, said in a statement. "Until now, we only had a superficial understanding of them and have been able to relate these stripes to cloud features along Jupiter's jets. Now, following the Juno gravity measurements, we know how deep the jets extend and what their structure is beneath the visible clouds. It's like going from a 2D picture to a 3D version in high definition."

Researchers believe the weather layer of Jupiter's atmosphere extends to a depth of around 1,900 miles, and contains around one percent of the planet's mass.

The Juno spacecraft was launched in August, 2011, and finally reached Jupiter and entered the planet's orbit in July 2016. The latest image came from Juno's 18th flyby of the planet. The mission is currently scheduled to go on until 2021—it was extended by NASA last year, giving the science team working on it an additional 41 months to gather data. At the end of the mission, the spacecraft will be deorbited into Jupiter's atmosphere.

Like Van Gogh: Jupiter's Swirling Clouds Captured by NASA's Juno Spacecraft | Tech & Science