Planets and Moons
Jupiter or Earth?
It’s reasonable to think that Jupiter—a gaseous planet more than 11 times the diameter of Earth—would have little in common with our home. But it turns out that the motion of fluids on both planets is governed by the same laws of physics. An eddy on Earth looks a lot like an eddy on Jupiter. The similarities are especially evident in these images showing swirls in Jupiter’s atmosphere [left] and in Earth’s Baltic Sea [right]. “This is all about fluids moving around on a rotating body,” said Norman Kuring of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Scientists think Jupiter has three distinct cloud layers. The left image shows ammonia-rich clouds swirling in the planet’s outermost layer. Citizen scientists created the image using data acquired by the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft in December 2018. According to Alberto Adriani, a Juno mission co-investigator, the eddies in Jupiter’s clouds reflect disturbances in the atmosphere caused by the planet’s fast rotation and by higher temperatures deeper in the atmosphere. He compares the phenomenon to rapidly rotating a fluid while boiling it.
The patterns in Jupiter’s atmosphere appear similar to those in Earth’s ocean. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired the second image on July 18, 2018. This natural-color image shows a green phytoplankton bloom tracing the edges of a vortex in the Baltic Sea.
“In interpreting what we see elsewhere in the solar system and universe, we always compare with phenomena that we already know of on Earth,” Kuring said. “We work from the familiar toward the unknown.”
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JunoCam image: NASA/SwRI/MSSS via Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran. Landsat-8 Image: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey