A spacecraft orbiting Jupiter has revealed “frosted cupcake” clouds covering the planet.
Incredible 3D renderings, derived from data captured by JunoCam, the visible light camera aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft, have enabled animations of the relative heights of the cloud tops of the largest planet in our solar system.
They reveal delicately textured swirls and peaks that the researchers say resemble the frosting on top of a cupcake.
The results were presented by Gerald Eichstädt, citizen scientist and professional mathematician and software developer, at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2022 in Granada.
Understanding the relative heights of the spiny pillars in the eddies will help scientists unravel the elements that make them up in more detail.
Onboard initially to increase public engagement around the exploration of Jupiter and its moons, a global team of citizen scientists, working in conjunction with professional astronomers and the Juno team, demonstrated that JunoCam can also provide a valuable science.
“The Juno mission offers us the opportunity to observe Jupiter in a way that is essentially unreachable by Earth-based telescopic observations,” Eichstätd explained.
“We can observe the same cloud features from vastly different angles in just a few minutes. This has opened up a new opportunity to derive 3D elevation models of Jupiter’s cloud tops. come to life., showing clouds rising to different altitudes.”
Using the different ways sunlight is reflected and scattered by clouds, the team was able to determine 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, especially by methane, before being reflected back to the camera by the cloud tops.
“According to theoretical models, clouds should be composed of different chemical species, ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide and water ice from top to bottom,” Eichstädt said. “Once we have calibrated our data, through further measurements of the same cloud tops, we will test and refine the theoretical predictions and have a better 3D picture of the chemical composition.”
On August 5, 2011, NASA’s Juno spacecraft embarked on a 5-year journey to the largest planet in our solar system, the gas giant Jupiter. Its mission is to probe beneath the planet’s dense clouds and answer questions about the origin and evolution of Jupiter, our solar system, and giant planets in general across the cosmos.
Juno arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a 5-year, 1.7 billion-mile journey, and settled into a 53-day polar orbit extending just above the cloud tops of Jupiter to the edge of the Jovian magnetosphere.
Produced in association with SWNS.
This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.