Image Advisory - Cassini Snaps Jupiter's Red Spot

Oct. 23, 2000


Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot, a storm as wide as two Earths and more than 300 years old, interrupts the pattern of horizontal stripes on Jupiter in a new color image of the planet from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The image was taken from a distance of about 78 million kilometers (48 million miles) on Oct. 8. A related panel of three images displays the same side of Jupiter in three different wavelengths, including ultraviolet and infrared views that show features not seen in visible light.

The images are available from the web site of the Cassini Imaging Science team at the University of Arizona, Tucson, at http://ciclops.lpl.arizona.edu/ciclops/images_jupiter_new.html and from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/pictures/jupiter

Cassini will pass most closely to Jupiter, at about 10 million kilometers (6 million miles) away, on Dec. 30. Images taken as it approaches and flies past will be used for studies of atmospheric dynamics, dark rings and other features of Jupiter. Cassini is passing Jupiter on its way to its ultimate destination, Saturn.

Additional information about the flyby is available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/jupiterflyby

Cassini is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the Cassini and Galileo missions for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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IMAGE CAPTION PIA-02821
Jupiter's Great Red Spot in Cassini image
October 23, 2000


This true color image of Jupiter, taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, is composed of three images taken in the blue, green and red regions of the spectrum. All images were taken from a distance of 77.6 million kilometers (48.2 million miles) on Oct. 8, 2000.

Different chemical compositions of the cloud particles lead to different colors. The cloud patterns reflect different physical conditions -- updrafts and downdrafts -- in which the clouds form. The bluish areas are believed to be regions devoid of clouds and covered by high haze.

The Great Red Spot (below and to the right of center) is a giant atmospheric storm as wide as two Earths and over 300 years old, with peripheral winds of 483 kilometers per hour (300 miles per hour). This image shows that it is trailed to the north by a turbulent region, caused by atmospheric flow around the spot.

The bright white spots in this region are lightning storms, which were seen by NASA's Galileo spacecraft when it photographed the night side of Jupiter. Cassini will track these lightning storms and measure their lifetimes and motions when it passes Jupiter in late December and looks back on the dark side of the planet. Cassini is currently en route to its ultimate destination, Saturn.

The resolution is 466 kilometers (290 miles) per picture element.

Cassini is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Cassini mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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IMAGE CAPTION PIA-02822
Jupiter in blue, ultraviolet and near infrared
October 23, 2000

These three images of Jupiter, taken through the narrow angle camera of NASA's Cassini spacecraft from a distance of 77.6 million kilometers (48.2 million miles) on October 8, reveal more than is apparent to the naked eye through a telescope.

The image on the left was taken through the blue filter. The one in the middle was taken in the ultraviolet. The one on the right was taken in the near infrared.

The blue-light filter is within the part of the electromagnetic spectrum detectable by the human eye. The appearance of Jupiter in this image is, consequently, very familiar. The Great Red Spot (below and to the right of center) and the planet's well-known banded cloud lanes are obvious. The brighter bands of clouds are called zones and are probably composed of ammonia ice particles. The darker bands are called belts and are made dark by particles of unknown composition intermixed with the ammonia ice.

Jupiter's appearance changes dramatically in the ultraviolet and near infrared images. These images are near negatives of each other and illustrate the way in which observations in different wavelength regions can reveal different physical regimes on the planet.

All gases scatter sunlight efficiently at short wavelengths; this is why the sky appears blue on Earth. The effect is even more pronounced in the ultraviolet. The gases in Jupiter's atmosphere, above the clouds, are no different. They scatter strongly in the ultraviolet, making the deep banded cloud layers invisible in the middle image. Only the very high altitude haze appears dark against the bright background. The contrast is reversed in the near infrared, where methane gas, abundant on Jupiter but not on Earth, is strongly absorbing and therefore appears dark. Again the deep clouds are invisible, but now the high altitude haze appears relatively bright against the dark background. High altitude haze is seen over the poles and the equator.

The Great Red Spot, prominent in all images, is obviously a feature whose influence extends high in the atmosphere. As the Cassini cameras continue to return images of Jupiter, it will be possible to construct a three-dimensional picture of how clouds form and evolve by watching the changing appearance of Jupiter in different spectral regions.

JPL manages the Cassini mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPl is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

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