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Thunderheads on Jupiter

photo of thunderheads on jupiter[64k]

Scientists have spotted what appear to be thunderheads on Jupiter bright white cumulus clouds similar to those that bring thunderstorms on Earth - at the outer edges of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Images from NASA's Galileo spacecraft now in orbit around Jupiter are providing new evidence that thunderstorms may be an important source of energy for Jupiter's winds that blow at more than 500 kilometers per hour (about 300 miles per hour). The photos were taken by Galileo's solid state imager camera on June 26, 1996 at a range of about 1.4 million kilometers (about 860,000 miles).

The image at top is a mosaic of multiple images taken through near-infrared filters. False coloring in the image reveals cloud-top heights. High, thick clouds are white and high, thin clouds are pink. Low-altitude clouds are blue. The two black-and-white images at bottom are enlargements of the boxed area; the one on the right was taken 70 minutes after the image on the left. The arrows show where clouds have formed or dissipated in the short time between the images. The smallest clouds are tens of kilometers across.

On Earth, moist convection in thunderstorms is a pathway through which solar energy, deposited at the surface, is transported and delivered to the atmosphere. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology analyzing data from Galileo believe that water, the most likely candidate for what composes these clouds on Jupiter, may be more abundant at the site seen here than at the Galileo Probe entry site, which was found to be unexpectedly dry.

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