Juno spacecraft captures stunning images of Jupiter’s cloud tops, storms
During its recent close flybys of Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured incredible images of the giant planet’s cloud tops, storms, and atmosphere that some have compared to Vincent Van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night” painting.
The spacecraft’s JunoCam instrument, a visible light camera designed to photograph the planet’s poles and cloud tops, took the photo above from a distance of just 8,292 miles (13,345 km) at a latitude of 48.9 degrees.
Some of the images have been color-enhanced, and many were processed by citizen scientists Sean Doran and Gerald Eichstadt.
In the colorful photo above, filled with beautiful blue and beige swirls, the turbulent, whirling clouds of the planet’s atmosphere fill the entire image, which has a scale of 5.8 miles (9.3 km) per pixel. Because the picture was taken so close to the surface, the planet’s curve cannot be seen in it.
An image captured from a greater distance, 64,899 miles (104,446 km) from the cloud tops, shows Jupiter’s south polar region. The color-enhanced image, in which the south pole appears appears blue, has a resolution of 43.6 miles (70.2 km) per pixel.
JunoCam took this image at the latitude of 83.9 degrees south.
Because it was photographed from further away against the blackness of space, Jupiter appears smaller than it actually is.
These cloud tops would not appear blue if we saw them up close. Enhanced color is used because it enables us to see the shapes and details of the atmosphere, which would not be always be visible in natural color.
One image of the southern hemisphere’s cloud belts shows colorful contrasts, with white bands in the center and beige or brown ones adjacent to them. At the far left is a region known as the Southern Temperate Belt. The white clouds in the center are actually a cyclone that is rotating clockwise.
This image was captured at a distance of just 8,453 miles (13,604 km) above the cloud tops at the latitude of 27.9 degrees south. Resolution is 5.6 miles (9.1 km) per pixel.
A massive storm is visible in Jupiter’s northern hemisphere, in a photo taken from a distance of just 6,281 miles (10,108 km) over the latitude 41.84 degrees north. Image resolution is 4.2 miles (6.7 km) per pixel.
Rotating counter-clockwise, the storm’s clouds stretch over many altitudes, with the darkest clouds believed to be the deepest ones.
Vivid blue and white swirling cloud tops are seen above Jupiter’s northern hemisphere at a latitude of 57.57 degrees. Juno took this image from just 11,747 miles (18,906 km), with a resolution of 7.75 miles (12.5 km) per pixel.
In another color-enhanced image, a serene-looking image actually depicts one of eight massive rotating storms described by some as a “string of pearls” in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. This picture was taken at a latitude of 52.96 south from a distance of 20,577 miles (33,115 km). Resolution is 13.86 miles (22.3 km) per pixel.
Many more processed images are available for viewing in the mission’s photo gallery. Those interested in doing their own processing can find raw data on the mission’s website.
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.