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'It's Snowing On Jupiter': Stunning Photos Show Clouds High In Gas Giant's Skies

Not all of Jupiter's clouds are massive, spinning, otherworldly monsters.

Outstanding new images took by NASA's Jupiter-orbiting Juno probe show fluffy-looking white clouds forming their comparably small shadows on the huge planet’s monstrous, multi-color cloud sky.

The white clouds, which get up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide or so, are high-flying in Jupiter's atmosphere, so high that they are very cold, and the material they hut is therefore nearly certainly frozen, Juno team scientists said.

"It's now snowing on Jupiter, and we are observing how it works," Juno major investigator Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a news conference Thursday (May 25). [Interconnected: New Mysteries at Jupiter]

Zoomed view of a photo captured by Juno probe on May 19, 2017, viewing clouds of water-ice or/and ammonia ice high-flying in Jupiter’s atmosphere in the south tropical zone.
Credit: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

"It's mostly ammonia ice, but there could be water-ice mixed into it, so it's not exactly similar to the snow that we have on Earth," Bolton added. "And I was expending my thoughts when I said it was snowing there — it may hail."

Minor bright clouds of water ice or/ and ammonia ice dot Jupiter’s whole south tropical zone in this image captured by Juno spacecraft on May 19, 2017, at an altitude of 12,858 kilometers (7,990 miles). This is the first time in the history that so many Jupiter’s cloud towers have been visible, maybe because the late-afternoon lighting is mostly good at this geometry.
Credit: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

The $1.1 billion Juno spacecraft launched in August 2011 and reached in a very elliptical orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. The probe's main objective involves describing the structure, composition, magnetic fields and gravitational and of Jupiter, to advantage researchers better understand how the gas giant formed and developed.

Jupiter clouds captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on May 19, 2017.
An even closer sight of the high-altitude Jupiter clouds 
Credit: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

NASA's Jupiter-orbiting Juno probe makes most of its measurements through close passes over Jupiter's poles that happens once every 53.5 Earth-days. Juno spacecraft has successfully conducted five such data-collecting "perijove passes" until now, with the first occurring on August 27, 2016.

The new photos were taken during the latest close approach, which Juno finished on May 19.

This photo taken by Juno on May 19, 2017, at 5:50 UTC from an altitude of 8,900 kilometers (5,500 miles) shows flying white clouds composed of water ice or/and ammonia ice. In some zones, these clouds look to form “squall lines” — thin crowds of high winds and storms connected with a cold front.
Credit: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

Thursday's news session dedicated mainly on the science fallouts that the Juno team has been able to collect from the first few ‘perijove passes’. For example, Bolton and his team members discussed the astonishing cyclones that Juno found near Jupiter's poles, the mysterious methods pouring Jovian auroras and tells that the Jupiter may have a massive and "fuzzy," or incompletely dissolved, core, among other matters.



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