NASA Releases Mesmerizing Image of Jupiter's Chaotic Clouds

NASA has released a stunning image of Jupiter that reveals in spectacular detail swirling cloud belts and violent vortices within the planet's northern hemisphere.

The image was captured by the Juno spacecraft's JunoCam on May 23 during its 13th flyby of the planet, at a distance of roughly 9,000 miles above the planet's cloud tops and a latitude of about 56 degrees. The colors have been enhanced to highlight different features in the clouds.

The region that can be seen is fairly chaotic, consisting of several swirling cloud formations. In general, the darker areas represent cloud material that is deeper in the planet's atmosphere, while the brighter areas are higher up. It is likely that these brighter clouds are made from ammonia, or ammonia and water, mixed with unknown chemical ingredients.

Near the bottom of the image lies a bright, large oval-shaped feature that is particularly prominent. Earth-based observations of this weather system show it to be uniformly white. However, the JunoCam image reveals finely detailed structures within it that are not apparent in the observations.

Like Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot—a massive storm that's larger than the Earth itself—there does not appear to be significant motion in the interior of the feature, probably because the winds inside it slow down significantly as they approach the center.

Juno, which was launched on August 15, 2011, has been investigating Jupiter's origin and evolution, revolutionizing our understanding of the planet and capturing numerous spectacular images in the process.

Among its tasks, the probe has been studying the composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties of the planet's atmosphere, as well as its magnetic and gravitational fields and its winds, which can reach speeds of nearly 400 miles per hour.

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This image captures swirling cloud belts and tumultuous vortices within Jupiter’s northern hemisphere. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt /Seán Doran

"Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation," according to a NASA statement. "As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars."

The statement added, "Juno will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system."