Incredible images of Jupiter, resembling abstract watercolor paintings, have emerged from NASA through its Juno mission. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration shared a jaw-dropping new image on Monday that captures powerful storms swirling around the planet. The Juno spacecraft took the picture 14,600 miles (23,500 km) above the planet’s cloud tops.
The image was composed from raw data captured by Juno’s JunoCam instrument. The spacecraft’s cameras have revealed much about the giant planet since its first flyby in 2016. It’s found lightning higher than ever, rings of stable storms at the planet’s north and south poles, and a belt of icy ammonia encircling Jupiter’s equator. It has also been discovered that Jupiter is not as dense and compact as scientists once believed and has an erratic magnetic field.
In its latest discovery, Juno has given the Great Red Spot a front-row seat — a monster storm that has mesmerized stargazers for centuries. The iconic region is a wild, 10,000-mile-wide storm swirling and twisting for at least 300 years. It’s estimated that its winds reach 400mph — far more than Category 5 hurricanes on Earth. Juno has also helped scientists understand how giant planet atmospheres work and how their swirling motions can affect our weather systems on Earth.
This week, a flurry of images has emerged that show the power and beauty of Jupiter’s storms. A collection of cyclones at the planet’s north pole is depicted in an image taken on July 5. The cyclones are about 30 miles high and hundreds of miles across. Another stunning image shows a storm system at the planet’s south pole, with one storm in the center and five storms in a perfect pentagon.
Downpours of ammonia-water droplets have sparked these polar concatenations of storms. The resulting ‘mushballs’ can grow as large as baseballs, creating the swirling patterns seen in the images.
Juno is on a 53.5-day orbit of Jupiter, flying as close as 2,600 miles to the planet’s swirling clouds. The basketball-court-size probe’s mission was extended last year to 2025. Scientists want to learn as much as possible about the planet, its moons — including Ganymede and Europa, which may host microbial life – and how our solar system works.
Juno’s images are streamed to the public in a constant stream. As a part of the citizen science project Jovian Vortex Hunter, anyone can help categorize and analyze these images and their features and help scientists understand how Jupiter’s atmospheric phenomena work.