It is a stunning view of a strange, swirling world.
NASA today revealed this incredible image of Jupiter’s south pole.
It was created by citizen scientist Gabriel Fiset using data from the JunoCam instrument on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.
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Created by Gabriel Fiset using data from the JunoCam instrument on NASA’s Juno spacecraft, it shows dozens of gigantic oval storms dotting the cloudscape. The image was taken on Dec. 11, 2016 at 9:44 a.m. PST (12:44 p.m. EST), from an altitude of about 32,400 miles (52,200 kilometers) above the planet’s beautiful cloud tops.
It shows dozens of gigantic oval storms dotting the cloudscape.
‘Approaching the pole, the organized turbulence of Jupiter’s belts and zones transitions into clusters of unorganized filamentary structures, streams of air that resemble giant tangled strings,’ NASA sayd.
The image was taken on Dec. 11, 2016 at 9:44 a.m. PST (12:44 p.m. EST), from an altitude of about 32,400 miles (52,200 kilometers) above the planet’s beautiful cloud tops.
It comes weeks after a Cassini revealed the ‘watercolor world’ of Saturn in unprecedented detail.
Astronomers have been captivated by the strange swirling patterns on the planet.
They are caused by ‘megawinds’ among the fastest in the solar system that can reach 1,100mph.
The strange swirling patterns on the planet are caused by ‘megawinds’ among the fastest in the solar system that can reach 1,100mph.
HOW IT WAS TAKEN
This view was taken from a vantage point about 28 degrees above Saturn’s equator.
The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Dec. 2, 2016, with a combination of spectral filters which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 728 nanometers.
The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 592,000 miles (953,000 kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 35 miles (57 kilometers) per pixel.
‘When imaged at infrared wavelengths that pierce the planet’s upper haze layer, the high-speed winds of Saturn’s atmosphere produce watercolor-like patterns,’ NASA explained.
With no solid surface creating atmospheric drag, winds on Saturn can reach speeds of more than 1,100 miles per hour (1,800 kilometers per hour) – some of the fastest in the solar system.
It comes after NASA last week hailed a ‘new frontier’ after revealing some of the strongest evidence yet that alien life may exist on one of Saturn’s moons.
The space agency said that practically all the elements needed for life had been discovered in the same place in our solar system – on one of Saturn’s icy moons.
The missing ingredient, hydrogen, was discovered for the first time on Enceladus during the deepest ever dive by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
This hydrogen is now said to be ‘a potential source of chemical energy that could support microbes on the seafloor of Enceladus,’ the researchers revealed during a NASA press conference yesterday.
After 13 years exploring Saturn, the craft dove into high-powered jets of water spewing from the moon’s surface, where it found hydrogen gas.
The gas is the final piece of the puzzle following the discovery of water in an ocean under Enceladus’s surface.
It means Saturn’s sixth moon may have the same single-celled organisms with which life began on Earth, or more complex creatures still.
All the building blocks for life have been found for the first time away from Earth, NASA announced – within our solar system. Hunt for alien life is set to begin on Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth largest moon, after Cassini’s deepest ever dive into its cracks found hydrogen gas
WHAT THEY FOUND
During its deepest-ever dive into a plume from cracks in Enceladus’ ice-covered ocean, the Cassini spacecraft detected the presence of hydrogen gas.
According to researchers, the only plausible source of this gas could be hydrothermal reactions between hot rocks and water in the ocean beneath the icy surface.
This same process, on Earth, provides energy for entire ecosystems around hydrothermal vents.
As a result, the researcher say there could be volatile species in these deep oceans.
It means Enceladus may have the same single-celled organisms which began life on Earth, or more complex life still.
While they haven’t found life itself on Enceladus, Glein says the geochemical data ‘could allow for this possibility.’
These organisms, still found on our planet within the darkest depths of our oceans, use hydrogen and carbon dioxide as fuel in a process known as ‘methanogenesis.’
‘What is intriguing about the data at Enceladus, with the hydrogen detection, is that we are now able to determine how much energy would be available from the methanogenesis reaction at Enceladus,’ said Chris Glein, Cassini INMS team associate at SwRI during the press conference.
‘We have made the first calorie count in an alien ocean.’
This, the researcher explained, is a major step in assessing the moon’s habitability.
While they haven’t found life itself on Enceladus, Glein says the geochemical data ‘could allow for this possibility.’
Mary Voytek, senior astrobiologist at Nasa Headquarters, said last night: ‘This is a new frontier because this is the first time we have seen evidence of an alien food source in an ocean not on Earth.
‘We knew we had two of the key ingredients for life and now we have the third. This is the most exciting discovery in my eight-year career at Nasa.’
The building blocks of life on Enceladus are water, which no form of life on Earth can exist without, an energy source and six elements – carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur.
The last two of these, phosphorus and sulphur, have not yet been found in Enceladus’s ocean – but scientists suspect them to be there because the rocky core of the moon is believed to be chemically similar to meteorites containing them.
This now paves the way for further explorations to find life in our solar system.
‘Although we can’t detect life, we’ve found that there’s a food source there for it,’ said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study.
‘It would be like a candy store for microbes.’
The hydrogen, which shoots out of the moon in high-powered ice jets, is the final puzzle piece following the discovery of its liquid ocean and carbon dioxide. It means Enceladus may have the same single-celled organisms which began life on Earth, or more complex life still
Professor David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University, said: ‘Right now, we only know of life beginning once in the universe, here on Earth, which leaves us alone in the dark. It could have simply been an incredible fluke.
‘But if it has happened twice in this solar system, it opens up everything.
‘There are tens of billions of worlds in our galaxy and there could be alien life on many of those too.’
Alien life was once only thought possible on habitable planets within the ‘Goldilocks zone’ – far enough from our sun not to be a fireball, but not so far as to be freezing.
Enceladus, a frozen moon around 800million miles from Earth, was one of the least likely candidates.
But in 2005 the Cassini spacecraft was orbiting Saturn when it picked up plumes of vapour coming from the ‘tiger stripes’, or deep fissures, in the moon’s surface.
This established that, while Enceladus is freezing on its surface, underneath is a liquid ocean.
Organisms, found on our planet in hot vents within the darkest depths of our oceans, use hydrogen and carbon dioxide as fuel in a process called ‘methanogenesis.’ Researchers have now discovered the building blocks for life exist on Enceladus as well
WHAT IS ENCELADUS?
Enceladus is Saturn’s sixth largest moon, at 313 miles wide (504 kilometers).
Cassini observations have revealed hydrothermal activity, with vents spewing water vapour and ice particles out from a global ocean buried beneath the icy crust.
According to NASA, the plume includes organic compounds, volatile gases, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, salts, and silica.
While it may look ‘inhospitable’ like Saturn’s other moons, the observations suggest it may have the ingredients to support life.
That ocean is warmed by rock at the core of the moon, tidally heated as Enceladus orbits Saturn. The gravity from the planet pulls the moon out of shape, wherever it is closest, creating friction that heats the rock to 90C – enough to melt the ice.
Scientists did not have to drill beneath the ice to examine the reservoir under the moon’s south pole, as its vapour erupted in plumes through cracks in the surface.
Cassini, on its final mission before it runs out of fuel and is allowed to burn up in space, was sent diving deep into the jets.
Yesterday Nasa announced the spacecraft had found hydrogen as a gas, the form needed to support single-celled organisms, in the moon’s ocean.
These microbes use hydrogen, which they cannot extract from water, like we use oxygen, to fuel their cells.
Scientists know this form of life can exist after discovering similar creatures at the bottom of Earth’s oceans.
They are able to survive without sunlight, using hydrogen and carbon dioxide supplied by thermal heating from deep-water vents.
This could provide the necessary energy to support organisms at the seafloor of Enceladus.
‘Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth,’ said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
‘This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,’ said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington.
‘These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.’
In 2005 the unmanned Cassini spacecraft was orbiting Saturn when it picked up plumes of vapour coming from the ‘tiger stripes,’ or deep fissures, in the moon’s surface
Observations in 2005 by the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini mission revealed plumes of water vapour and ice spraying into space from the south pole of Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, as illustrated above
Cassini, which made the major breakthrough using its mass spectrometer, will have a fiery end to its time in space. After orbiting Saturn for 13 years, its ‘grand finale’ mission will end in September when it is diverted to crash into Saturn and burn up.
Dr David Clements, astrophysicist at Imperial College London, said: ‘This discovery does not mean that life exists on Enceladus, but it is a step on the way to that result.’
He added: ‘We need to know much more about the molecular species coming out of Enceladus and, ideally, that are inside it before we can make such claims.’
Hydrogen gas, thought to be formed by the heated rocks beneath Enceladus, is needed along with a suitable temperature.
HUBBLE SPOTS SECOND PLUME ON EUROPA
Meanwhile the Hubble telescope, the first telescope sent into space in 1990, which has made more than 1.3 million observations, last year spotted possible similar water plumes to those of Enceladus erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Evidence of a plume was seen at this same location in 2014, and the researchers say the new observations are further evidence that these plumes could be real, and experience intermittent flare-ups.
As the Hubble telescope has now twice seen similar vapour flumes coming off Europa, which makes it a second key candidate for this kind of alien life.
Nasa’s Europa Clipper mission, named after ships that sailed on Earth in the 19th century, will set off in the 2020s to search for the chemical ingredients of life on Europa.
Meanwhile the Hubble telescope last year spotted possible similar water plumes to those of Enceladus erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa. The green oval shows the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. This corresponds to a warm region on Europa’s surface, NASA says
These composite images show a suspected plume of material erupting two years apart from the same location on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Both plumes, photographed in UV light by Hubble, were seen in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter.
The discovery of these four ingredients now paves the way for further explorations to find life in our solar system.
Mars, which shares some of the same material as Earth, is a prime candidate, although scientists are now divided as to whether the moons in our solar system are a better bet.
Titan, the largest of Saturn’s 53 moons, is believed to have a subsurface ocean as salty as Earth’s Dead Sea in Israel.
As scientists look further for living microbes on Enceladus, NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, named after the clipper ships which sailed across the oceans of our planet in the 19th century, will set off in the 2020s to search for the chemical ingredients of life.
As scientists look further for living microbes on Enceladus, NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, named after the clipper ships which sailed across the oceans of our planet in the 19th century, will set off in the 2020s to search for the chemical ingredients of life
Cassini, which made the major breakthrough on Saturn’s moon using its mass spectrometer, will have a fiery end to its mission.
After orbiting Saturn for 13 years, its ‘grand finale’ mission will end in September when it is diverted to crash into Saturn.
The discoveries mark an important milestone in the search for alien life – which, the experts say, would be quite different from our own.
‘These ocean worlds with their protective outer shell, if indeed there’s life in there, it has to be completely different than ours in the sense that it’s generated in a way that’s not related to our life,’ said Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, during the conference.
‘We call that a second genesis.’