NASA has released images of Jupiter’s surreal, swirling gas clouds captured by the Juno spacecraft, a $1.1 billion program launched in 2011.
The probe has been studying Jupiter from above for four years, and earlier this year captured close-up, high-resolution images that reveal more about the gas giant's incredible atmosphere.
Jupiter’s covering cloud features are seen swirling in the image, 15,610 miles (25,120 kilometers) below, while long streaks of high-altitude “haze,” stretching in layers, float above the gas giant’s underlying cloud cover. It is unclear, scientists say, how these streaks form or what they are made of.
“Juno has observed these long streaks since its first close pass by Jupiter in 2016. The streaks are layers of haze particles that float above the underlying cloud features.”
The space agency adds: “Two jet streams in Jupiter's atmosphere flank either side of the region where the narrow bands of haze typically appear, and some researchers speculate those jet streams may influence the formation of the high hazes."
Since the first images of the gas planet were transmitted directly from the JunoCam, scientists on Earth have had new opportunities to study the planet in much closer detail.
Another image, taken on April 10, reveals complex weather topography, including small thunderstorm cloud formations that scientists are calling “pop-up clouds.”
Described as "high-altitude electrical storms," these pop-up clouds “stand out at the tops and edges of the swirling patterns, while the darker areas nearby reveal greater depth.”
They are responsible for a phenomenon called "shallow lightning," an electrical discharge that "originates from clouds containing an ammonia-water solution," according to NASA. Also produced in these thunderstorm clouds are "slushy ammonia-rich hailstones," appropriately dubbed "mushballs" by Juno's science team.
While there is still much to be discovered amidst these high-altitude jet streams and cloud formations, one thing remains clear: the dynamic surface of Jupiter is not only breathtaking to behold but also eminently fascinating to explore in all its intricacies.