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Jupiter or the Earth? | The image of today



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Two orbital photos side by side of nearly identical round swirls.

Swirls in the atmosphere of Jupiter (left) and in the Baltic Sea (right). Image via Joshua Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory.

By Kathryn Hansen / NASA Earth Observatory.

Jupiter is a gaseous planet – the largest planet in our solar system – with more than 11 times the diameter of the Earth. But Jupiter and the Earth are governed by the same laws of physics. And that's why a swirling whirlpool in the Earth's ocean looks a lot like a swirling swirl in Jupiter's thick atmosphere. The similarities are evident in these images showing swirls in the atmosphere of Jupiter and in the Baltic Sea. Norman Kuring of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said:

These are fluids circulating on a rotating body.

Kuring described the flow patterns as a combination of laminar (following a smooth path) and turbulent (uneven and chaotic). The flows can be characterized with the help of numbers named after famous physicists, such as Reynolds, Rossby and Rayleigh. But you do not need theoretical knowledge of fluid dynamics to appreciate the consequences. Kuring said:

All the complexity comes from beauty, whether it's images of the Earth, Jupiter or your cup of coffee when you pour the cream.

Blue whirlpools detailed in the atmosphere of the planet Jupiter.

Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran created this image in December 2018 using data acquired by JunoCam imager on NASA's Juno spacecraft. Image via the NASA Earth Observatory.

Scientists believe that Jupiter has three distinct layers of clouds. The above image, taken by the Juno probe, shows ammonia-rich clouds swirling in the outermost layer of the planet.

According to Alberto Adriani, a co-researcher at the Institute of Astrophysics and Planetology for the Juno mission, Jupiter's cloud vortices reflect the atmospheric disturbances caused by the rapid rotation of the planet and the temperatures higher deeper in the atmosphere. He compares the phenomenon to the rapid rotation of a fluid while boiling it.

Green swirl with spiral arms in the Baltic Sea.

The Operational Terrain Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this image on 18 July 2018. Image via NASA's Earth Observatory.

The patterns of Jupiter's atmosphere seem similar to those of the Earth's oceans. The natural color satellite image above shows a proliferation of green phytoplankton tracing the edges of a vortex in the Baltic Sea. In this environment, the terrestrial ocean, turbulent processes play an important role in the transfer of heat, carbon and nutrients around the planet. Models that accurately represent these processes are essential for understanding weather conditions in the air and at sea.

As scientists continue to explore the complexities of the Earth's oceans, astronomers are learning more about the complex composition of Jupiter – an important element in understanding how our solar system and other solar systems have formed. Kuring said:

By interpreting what we see elsewhere in the solar system and in the universe, we always compare with phenomena we already know on Earth. We work from the familiar to the unknown.

Bottom Line: The images compare the whirling swirls on Jupiter and the Earth.

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