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NASA’s Juno probe snaps stunning photo of Jupiter’s clouds that look like frosting on a cupcake

Like icing on a cupcake! Swirls and tops of Jupiter’s clouds are seen in incredible detail in stunning new 3D renderings from NASA’s Juno probe

  • NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been orbiting Jupiter since it arrived at the planet back in 2016
  • The stunning image was taken by JunoCam – the visible light camera on board Juno
  • They may look like the icing on a cupcake, but the textured swirls and peaks are actually clouds in Jupiter’s sky

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At first glance at this photo, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a close-up of the frosting on a delicious cupcake.

But the textured swirls and peaks are actually clouds in Jupiter’s sky, which were photographed by NASA’s Juno probe.

Software developer Gerald Eichstädt has created stunning 3D renderings of the clouds based on Juno’s data, which he presented at the Europlanet Science Congress this week.

“The Juno mission gives us an opportunity to observe Jupiter in a way that is essentially inaccessible to ground-based telescopic observations,” said Dr. Eichstädt.

At first glance at this photo, you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for a close-up of the frosting on a delicious cupcake.  But the textured swirls and peaks are actually clouds in Jupiter's sky, as photographed by NASA's Juno probe
At first glance at this photo, you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for a close-up of the frosting on a delicious cupcake.  But the textured swirls and peaks are actually clouds in Jupiter's sky, as photographed by NASA's Juno probe

At first glance at this photo, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a close-up of the frosting on a delicious cupcake. But the textured swirls and peaks are actually clouds in Jupiter’s sky, as photographed by NASA’s Juno probe

Jupiter: The basics

Revolving period: 12 years

Distance from the sun: 750 million km

Surface area: 61.42 billion km²

Radius: 69,911 km

Lot: 1.898 × ​​10^27 kg (317.8 M⊕)

Length of day: 0d 9h 56m

Moons: 53 with formal designations; countless extra moons

‘We can look at the same cloud functions from very different angles within minutes.

‘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 to different heights.’

Juno is a NASA spacecraft that has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016.

On board it has a visible-light camera called JunoCamera, which regularly takes stunning pictures of Jupiter and its moons.

Based on the different ways sunlight is reflected and scattered by Jupiter’s clouds, scientists have been able to pinpoint the height of the cloud tops in Juno’s images.

Clouds in the upper atmosphere have the most intense solar illumination, explained Dr. Eichstadt.

But deeper in the atmosphere, more light is absorbed before being scattered back to the camera by the cloud tops.

Understanding the relative heights of the pointed columns in the eddies could help scientists reveal more about the elements that make them up.

Software developer Gerald Eichstädt has created stunning 3D renderings based on Juno's data, which he presented at the Europlanet Science Congress this week
Software developer Gerald Eichstädt has created stunning 3D renderings based on Juno's data, which he presented at the Europlanet Science Congress this week

Software developer Gerald Eichstädt has created stunning 3D renderings based on Juno’s data, which he presented at the Europlanet Science Congress this week

“From theoretical models, the clouds are expected to be composed of different chemical species, ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide and water ice from top to bottom,” said Dr. Eichstädt.

“Once we have calibrated 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.”

The Juno probe reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five-year, 1.8 billion mile (2.8 billion km) journey from Earth.

After a successful braking maneuver, it entered a long polar orbit and flew within 3,100 miles (5,000 km) of the planet’s swirling cloud tops.

The probe skims to within just 4,200 km of the planet’s clouds once every fortnight – too close to provide global coverage in a single image.

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in our solar system.  It is a massive ball of gas made mostly of hydrogen and helium, with some heavy elements
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in our solar system.  It is a massive ball of gas made mostly of hydrogen and helium, with some heavy elements

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in our solar system. It is a massive ball of gas made mostly of hydrogen and helium, with some heavy elements

No previous spacecraft has orbited this close to Jupiter, although two others have been sent hurtling through its atmosphere to their destruction.

To complete its risky mission, Juno survived an orbit-frying radiation storm generated by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field.

The maelstrom of high-energy particles traveling at nearly the speed of light is the harshest radiation environment in the solar system.

To cope with the conditions, the spacecraft was protected with special radiation-hardened wiring and sensor shielding.

Its all-important ‘brain’ – the spacecraft’s flight computer – was housed in an armored vault made of titanium and weighed nearly 400 pounds (172 kg).

The craft is expected to study the composition of the planet’s atmosphere until 2025.

How NASA’s Juno probe to Jupiter will reveal the secrets behind the Solar System’s largest planet

The Juno probe reached Jupiter in 2016 after a five-year journey of 1.8 billion kilometers from Earth
The Juno probe reached Jupiter in 2016 after a five-year journey of 1.8 billion kilometers from Earth

The Juno probe reached Jupiter in 2016 after a five-year journey of 1.8 billion kilometers from Earth

The Juno probe reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five-year, 1.8 billion mile (2.8 billion km) journey from Earth.

After a successful braking maneuver, it entered a long polar orbit, flying within 3,100 miles (5,000 km) of the planet’s swirling cloud tops.

The probe skimmed to within just 2,600 miles (4,200 km) of the planet’s clouds once every fortnight – too close to provide global coverage in a single image.

No previous spacecraft has orbited this close to Jupiter, although two others have been sent hurtling through its atmosphere to their destruction.

To complete its risky mission, Juno survived an orbit-increasing radiation storm generated by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field.

The maelstrom of high-energy particles traveling at nearly the speed of light is the harshest radiation environment in the solar system.

To cope with the conditions, the spacecraft was protected with special radiation-hardened wiring and sensor shielding.

Its all-important ‘brain’ – the spacecraft’s flight computer – was housed in an armored vault made of titanium and weighed nearly 400 pounds (172 kg).

The craft is expected to study the composition of the planet’s atmosphere until 2025.

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