Another stunner from the Juno spacecraft: Jupiter’s giant cloud bands and ‘String of Pearls’

By Tom Yulsman | June 26, 2017 7:49 pm

This enhanced-color image of Jupiter was created by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt /Seán Doran)

After a bit of an absence for vacation, and to finish work on a feature article on Arctic climate change and geopolitics for bioGraphic magazine, I’m back to blogging here at ImaGeo. And when I spotted this arresting image of Jupiter from the Juno spacecraft, I knew this had to be my first post since returning.

Before I get into the details, you might be wondering how images of far away planets fit in a blog dedicated in large measure to the science of our planet. That word, ‘planet,’ gets at the answer. Here at ImaGeo I frequently feature images and write stories that consider Earth from a planetary perspective — remote sensing images of storms, for example, and articles examining how the global climate is changing and how our activities as humans are contributing.

For scientists, understanding our solar system siblings, including Jupiter as well as Mars and all the others, provides insight into the origin and evolution of our own planet. This in turn can help explain why Earth alone came to host an unimaginably diverse array of life forms, including a primate species capable of asking questions about its cosmic origins — and also to fling spacecraft out to other planets in a quest to answer those questions.

So that’s why I frequently post compelling images of other planets here, including the one above. It was acquired on May 19, 2017 by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of about 20,800 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops.

This is not how Jupiter would appear to our eyes if we were to orbiting the planet aboard Juno. Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran processed the raw image data from the JunoCam imager aboard Juno in a way that makes details in the giant gaseous planet’s bands of clouds really pop.

As NASA describes things:

Each of the alternating light and dark atmospheric bands in this image is wider than Earth, and each rages around Jupiter at hundreds of miles (kilometers) per hour. The lighter areas are regions where gas is rising, and the darker bands are regions where gas is sinking.

Also prominent in the image are white ovals known as the “String of Pearls,” visible near the top. These are counterclockwise-rotating storms.

All of us are welcome to try our hands at processing raw JunoCam images. I’ve done a bit myself, and it can be a blast. Here’s an example:

A processed, closeup image of Jupiter's swirling cloud-tops, based on raw data acquired by the Junocam instrument aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft on May 19, 2017. (Source: Raw imagery: NASA / SwRI / MSSS. Processing: Tom Yulsman)

A processed, closeup image of Jupiter’s swirling cloud-tops, based on raw data acquired by the Junocam instrument aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft on May 19, 2017. (Source: Raw imagery: NASA / SwRI / MSSS. Processing: Tom Yulsman)

My goal wasn’t scientific. I wanted to produce something almost painterly — something that an artist may have created.

For more information about using raw JunoCam data to create your own images, check out Juno’s image processing pages.

  • Cliff Clavin

    I hate those fuc’in pop up ads on Discover. I will never by any product that advertises on Discover.

    • OWilson

      Use Chrome?

    • Not_that_anyone_cares, but…

      I’ve a good, effective, work around add-on from Firefox but some ads do seem to do just the opposite of what they would seem to want to do. That is, they are a turn off, aren’t they.

      • Cliff Clavin

        Yea, I detest ads and am less likely to buy a particular product when I see intrusive ads for that product.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Cliff: I would never buy something based on an ad, period. So I fell ya’. On the other hand, what is your proposed business model for generating the revenue to pay the people who produce the content here at Discover and elsewhere? Or do you think editors and writers should work for free?

      • Cliff Clavin

        I don’t like the pop up ads on my iPad that I can’t make go away. Those are really annoying and in your face. Ads are fine as long as they are tastefully done. Ads are getting more and more aggressive these days.

  • Mike Richardson

    While they might not be the natural color human eyes discern through a telescope, or would see from an orbiting manner craft, these images are both mesmerizing and insightful for the level of detail the contrast reveals. Through backyard telescopes, folks like myself tease out more detail in Jupiter’s belts, zones, and storms, with colored filters, so this is just a more high-tech extension of that principle applying electronic image enhancement to shots taken by Juno in Jupiter’s own backyard. Thanks for the pictures. It’s good to see you back here, Tom.

  • Maia

    Beautiful! These most recent images of my second favorite planet remind me of the planet so mesmerizing in in the movie Solaris.

  • nik

    The pictures are rather like those that can be made by floating oil paint on water, and then stirring, but infinitely more complex, due to the larger pallet. Flattened and framed, they would be great on a wall.

    • Maia

      Yes, I’d love to have them on my wall! Maybe I’ll try my hand with watercolors.

      • nik

        Water colours will not float on water.
        The technique, I mentioned, is to put spots of OIL paint onto the surface of a flat tray of water, several different colours, then very gently stir with a stick. When you have a swirling pattern that appeals, you then carefully lay a sheet of paper onto the water so it floats on top of the oil paint. Then quickly but carefully peel it off, and lay it flat, paint side up, to dry.
        I was shown it when I was 7-8 years old, 65 years ago, but I can remember the amazing patterns as if it was yesterday. It made a big impression on me at that age.
        No doubt, if you search ‘you-tube’ you’ll be able to find a demonstration somewhere.

        Here’s a starter; others on the same page;
        and another,

        Good Luck!

        • Maia

          Yes, I understood you meant oil on water, but I still want to try some watercolor tricks. Actually, you can get watercolor pigment to float inside the water as it flows, and sometimes elaborate fractals appear, some fern-like, others cloud-like, ripples, swirls with tendrils and tendrilets….it’s amazing. I discovered this by accident…using too much water on water-proof canvas with thick watercolor pigments.
          But I’ll check out your videos, too!

          • nik

            Great! Good Luck.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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