Jupiter has never looked this delicious.
As NASA’s intrepid Juno probe takes a closeup flyby of Jupiter’s satellite Europa next week to penetrate the moon’s frozen crust with its microwave radiometer (MWR), a new video animation of the gas giant’s frosted-cupcake-looking clouds offers a superb peek at the massive planet’s atmosphere.
Thanks to citizen scientist, mathematician and software developer Dr. Gerald Eichstädt at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2022 in Granada, we’re afforded a fascinating glimpse at the soft wisps, curls, and swirls that might make you head for the nearest bakery for a sugary treat. But stave off those tempting dessert thoughts as these toxic fairytale clouds high above Jupiter wouldn’t taste appetizing at all.
“From theoretical models, the clouds are expected to be composed of different chemical species, ammonia, ammonium hydrosulphide, and water ice from top to bottom,” explains Dr Eichstädt (opens in new tab). “Once we calibrate our data thanks to other measurements of the same cloud tops, we will test and refine the theoretical predictions and have a better 3D picture of the chemical composition.”
This 30-second animated video employs stills captured by the vehicle’s JunoCam, which is the sensitive visible-light camera installed on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. The probe was first launched back on Aug. 5, 2011 and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. JunoCam was fitted onto Juno to help generate public excitement for the decade-old Jovian mission and to provide citizen scientists and working astronomers easy access to the images obtained during planetary flybys.
By collecting the intensity data of visible light captured by the camera, this information served as foundational material to create a breathtaking 3D elevation landscape. Dr Eichstädt’s animated short reveals a pass made at an altitude of 8,410 miles (13,536 kilometers) above Jupiter’s billowing cloud tops while zooming past on its 43rd flyby.
“The Juno mission provides us with an opportunity to observe Jupiter in a way which is essentially inaccessible by Earth-based telescopic observations. We can look at the same cloud features from very different angles within only a few minutes,” adds Dr. Eichstätd (opens in new tab).
“This has opened up a new opportunity to derive 3D elevation models of Jupiter’s cloud tops. The images of the wonderful chaotic storms on Jupiter seem to come to life, showing clouds rising at different altitudes.”