Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

August 3, 1996

Jupiter's Colourful Clouds
Credit: Voyager Project, JPL, and NASA

Explanation: What makes the colours in Jupiter's clouds? With a mean temperature of 120 degrees Kelvin (-153 degrees Celsius) and a composition dominated by Hydrogen (about 90%), and Helium (about 10%) with a smattering of hydrogen compounds like methane and ammonia, astronomers have been hard pressed to explain the blue, orange and brown cloud bands and the salmon coloured "red" spot. Trouble is -- at the cool cloud temperatures Jupiter's atmospheric constituents should be colourless! Some suggest that more colourful hydrogen compounds well up from warmer regions in the atmosphere, tinting the cloud tops. Alternatively, compounds of trace elements like sulfur may colour the clouds. The colours do indicate the clouds' altitudes, blue is lowest through red as highest. The dark coloured bands are called belts and the light coloured ones zones. In addition to the belts and zones, the Voyager missions revealed the presence of intricate vortices visible, for example, in this 1979 image from the Voyager I flyby. Centuries of visual observations of Jupiter have revealed that the colours of its clouds are ever changing.

Tomorrow's picture: NGC 3393: A Super Spiral?

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.