NASA just gave us an astounding glimpse at what Jupiter’s northern hemisphere looks like from about 9,600 (15,500 kilometers) away. The color-enhanced images taken during the Juno spacecraft’s 13th flyby on May 23 yielded images of a fierce turbulence that rages within a certain area on the gas giant’s surface, reports the Sun.
The breathtaking images were shot when NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew above the planet’s cloud tops “at a northern latitude of 56 degrees.” The pictures show us that Jupiter’s northern hemisphere is filled with tumultuous vortices and swirling eddies of cloud belts.
NASA explained on their website that the bright cloud material is in a higher part of Jupiter’s atmosphere, while darker material is deeper. NASA scientists surmise that the bright clouds are probably made up of ammonia or a water/ammonia mixture. Both possibilities could also contain a small amount of other unknown chemical compositions, according to the space agency.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft allows us to virtually ride along with her during the visit to the biggest planet in our solar system. And today, the satellite allowed viewers a chance to see, in fine-scale, an interesting structure within Jupiter’s chaotic weather system, including, a “Great White Spot.”
If you look, you can make a out the swirling bright and white oval that is the Great White Spot at the bottom center of the image. On the other hand, if you were to look at this feature in a telescope on Earth, the color of the Great White Spot would appear as solely white in hue with no discernible structures.
Seán Doran and Gerald Eichstädt, two citizen scientists, created the image below of Jupiter’s northern hemisphere that is shown on NASA’s twitter page. The duo created the image using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam.
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/wx2kqaBKIx pic.twitter.com/nZtmuzgQtm
— NASA (@NASA) June 22, 2018
NASA added that there isn’t a whole lot of significant motion seen in the center of the white spot. Additionally, there is speculation that the winds within the Great White Spot slow down significantly when they reach the interior, much like the ones in Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
Juno, which has been orbiting the gas giant since July 4, 2016, has helped humans learn some amazing things about the planet. For instance, NASA reported that Juno had earlier solved a 39-year old mystery behind Jupiter’s lightning. Scientists had pondered what was behind the Jovian lightning ever since NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft flew past the giant planet in 1979, confirming the lightning’s existence.
The Juno satellite’s Microwave Radiometer Instrument (MWR), which records emissions from Jupiter, was key in solving the mystery. Scientists were able to determine using MWR that lightning bolts on Jupiter were very much the same as terrestrial lightning on Earth. However, the areas where they flashed on both planets were quite different.
To clarify, much of Jupiter’s lightning is distributed near the poles, but there is none in close proximity to the equator. The same doesn’t hold true on Earth, where lightning bolts do congregate near the equator. The answer lies in the amount of heat that both planets receive, and Jupiter receives far less since it is quite a bit further from the sun.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft’s mission was to understand how Jupiter was formed and how it evolved. Other mission goals were to look for evidence of a solid planetary core, measure ammonia and water in the deep atmosphere, map the planet’s magnetic field, and to observe its auroras.
We can’t wait to see more of what Juno has in store for us!