What first impression do you have when you take a look at this photo that accompanies the article? Well, what you are seeing are nothing but the clouds in the sky of Jupiter that have been photographed by NASA’s Juno spacecraft and that we now see with the first three-dimensional renderings.
Software developer and citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt has created stunning 3D renderings of clouds based on data from Juno, specifically from NASA’s spacecraft-borne visible-light camera (Junocam). Eichstädt presented his results at the Europlanet Scientific Congress this week.
The gas giant planet is shown with swirling clouds, wild storms, and bands of color , but most of our views are flat. Until now.
“The Juno mission offers us the opportunity to observe Jupiter in a way that is essentially inaccessible to Earth-based telescopic observations. We can observe the same cloud features from very different angles in just a few minutes,” says Eichstatd. “This has opened up a new opportunity to derive 3D elevation models of Jupiter’s cloud tops. Images of the wonderful chaotic storms on Jupiter seem to come to life, showing clouds rising at different altitudes.”
The resulting image is gorgeous, sure, but it gives us another glimpse of just how powerful storms can be on the largest planet in our solar system. It’s about more than pretty pictures. The team says that digital models could also help scientists refine their understanding of the chemical composition of Jovian clouds.
Using the different ways that clouds reflect and scatter sunlight, the team has been able to identify the elevation of the observed cloud tops. Solar illumination is most intense for clouds in the upper atmosphere. Deeper in the atmosphere, more light is absorbed, particularly by methane, before being scattered back to the camera by cloud tops.
“According to theoretical models, the clouds are expected to be composed of different chemical species, ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide and water ice from top to bottom,” continues Eichstädt. “Once we calibrate our data thanks to other measurements of the same clouds, we will test and refine the theoretical predictions and get a better 3D picture of the chemical composition.”
Missions to Jupiter
With a radius of 69,911 kilometers, Jupiter is 11 times wider than Earth. It is the largest planet in our solar system by far, and its storms are equally gigantic (so much so that even one of its storms has its own name: the Great Red Spot, an anticyclonic vortex that has been in motion for hundreds of years and whose proportions reach a depth of up to 500 kilometers and 6,000 kilometers in diameter ).
No previous spacecraft has orbited as close to Jupiter as Juno , although two others were sent to their destruction through its atmosphere (Galileo and Cassini). Jupiter and its intense radiation present the harshest environment in the solar system, hence the Juno space probe was protected with special anti-radiation wiring and also thick shielding. The on-board computer even has a titanium armored vault weighing almost 200 kilos to protect the ‘brain’ of the ship at all costs.
Juno will continue to study the composition of the Jovian atmosphere until 2025.
Referencia: Eichstädt, G., Orton, G., and Hansen-Koharcheck, C.: Long-Baseline Observations with JunoCam, Europlanet Science Congress 2022, Granada, Spain, 18–23 Sep 2022, EPSC2022-1124, 2022. meetingorganizer.copernicus.or … 2/EPSC2022-1124.html