NASA releases spectacular video of Jupiter’s swirling clouds

The last few months have been a great time for fans of immense gas giants. NASA’s Juno mission has continued to feed back a series of sublime images detailing Jupiter’s surface, all dramatic clouds, tempestuous atmosphere and ancient storms measuring 10,000 miles wide.

Stitch some of those images together, and you can start to get an idea of how Jupiter’s swirling mass looks in motion. That’s exactly what the mathematician and citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt has done, creating a timelapse that showcases the movement of the planet’s atmosphere.

“Abstractly, the result appears something like a psychedelic paisley dream,” writes NASA. “Scientifically, however, the computer animation shows that circular storms tend to swirl, while bands and zones appear to flow.” NASA adds that the motion has been seen in previous time-lapse videos of Jupiter, “although never in this detail”.

The animation was made by digitally extrapolating two images taken nine minutes apart, modelling the movement of individual pixels to predict how the clouds would move over a period of 29 hours. The area featured in the clip is four times as large as Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, and could contain several planet Earths. These are very big clouds, essentially.

While the video is impressive, its creator suggests it is only the first step for further attempts to model Jupiter’s internal movement. “This animation represents a ‘feasibility test’,” Eichstädt told Europlanet. “Building on this initial work, we can add in more variables that will give us a more detailed description and physical understanding of Jupiter’s atmosphere.”

NASA’s Juno mission has so-far reaped plenty of rewards for astronomers, with the probe’s high-precision gravitational measurements gleaning tantalising details about the planet’s inner workings. Juno’s primary mission is due to end in July 2018, although it may be kept in operation until at least 2021, budget permitting. With more data about the solar system’s largest planet being sent back to Earth, here’s hoping we see more animations of Jupiter’s vast clouds in the coming months.

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