NASA released an image of what it called Jupiter's chaotic clouds this week, revealing a colorful vibrant surface consisting of vortices and cloud belts. The picture was created using images shot by NASA's Juno spacecraft.
"NASA’s Juno spacecraft took this color-enhanced image at 10:23 p.m. PDT on May 23, 2018 (1:23 a.m. EDT on May 24), as the spacecraft performed its 13th close flyby of Jupiter. At the time, Juno was about 9,600 miles (15,500 kilometers) from the planet's cloud tops, above a northern latitude of 56 degrees," read the agency's statement.
An image from JunoCam
According to NASA, the image's bright spots indicate higher part of the exoplanet's atmosphere while darker ones indicate deeper regions. "The bright clouds are most likely ammonia or ammonia and water, mixed with a sprinkling of unknown chemical ingredients," speculated the agency.
The image was created by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran from the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager that makes raw images available to the general public. The project has called on all amateur astronomers to upload their images of Jupiter to serve as context for new JunoCam images and even assist in the planning of future missions.
Swirling cloud belts and tumultuous vortices within Jupiter’s northern hemisphere are seen in this view from a May flyby of the planet's cloud tops by the @NASAJuno spacecraft. Take a look at this chaotic and turbulent world: https://t.co/wx2kqaBKIxpic.twitter.com/nZtmuzgQtm— NASA (@NASA) 22 June 2018
Space scientists believe that giant planets such as Jupiter are the cornerstones of planet formation due to their exorbitant masses that allow them to shape the orbits of other planetary objects. In this context, their story is crucial to our understanding of our solar system.
Searching for answers
Juno was launched with the mission to retrieve some answers to long-held questions regarding Jupiter such as how early the gas giant was born. The spacecraft has been orbiting the exoplanet since July 4, 2016, and has thus far provided some crucial insight.
Most impressively, Juno has been credited with solving a 39-year old mystery regarding Jupiter’s lightning. Information retrieved from the mission allowed scientists to uncover that lightning bolts on Jupiter were similar to those on Earth with the main difference being the areas where they flashed.
Due to the gas giant receiving less heat from the Sun than Earth, its lightning is distributed near the poles and not close to the equator. The revelation was met with much excitement by NASA.
“These discoveries could only happen with Juno,” said in a statement at the time Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. “Our unique orbit allows our spacecraft to fly closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft in history, so the signal strength of what the planet is radiating out is a thousand times stronger."
NASA is also hoping Juno will clarify theories surrounding the content and mass of Jupiter’s core and produce information on the amount of water and oxygen the planet holds. We will be watching closely!