Humanity's fascination with natural forces isn't restricted to our home planet. As our technologies improve, so does our desire to explore the farthest reaches of outer space, in an ongoing discovery of what lies just beyond our reach.
Slaking that thirst for deeper knowledge and understanding of our universe is the mission of Juno, a completely solar-powered spacecraft launched by NASA back in 2011. Named after the Roman goddess who was the spouse of Jupiter (the Roman thunder god), Juno's aim is to study Jupiter -- from its magnetic and gravity fields, to the composition, temperature and cloud patterns of its atmosphere. Since its arrival at its destination last summer, Juno has sent back some stunning images of Jupiter's mysterious cloud formations.
Seen from afar, these milky, swirling compositions are exquisitely beautiful -- this is nature's inherent and dazzling capacity for creativity, writ large.
Apart from appreciating these gorgeous images on their own, there's a lot of hard data to parse, as NASA explains on the Juno website:
Juno is NASA’s project focused on bringing a deeper understanding to Jupiter and the processes that might have governed our solar system’s creation. [..] Juno's principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.
As NASA explains, finding out how Jupiter was formed will also answer questions about how life is formed as well:
Even more importantly, the composition and role of icy planetesimals, or small proto-planets, in planetary formation hangs in the balance – and with them, the origin of Earth and other terrestrial planets. Icy planetesimals likely were the carriers of materials like water and carbon compounds that are the fundamental building blocks of life.
There are many bits of fascinating background information behind each image, such as this one above:
This [above] image, taken by the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft, highlights a feature on Jupiter where multiple atmospheric conditions appear to collide. This publicly selected target is called “STB Spectre.” The ghostly bluish streak across the right half of the image is a long-lived storm, one of the few structures perceptible in these whitened latitudes where the south temperate belt of Jupiter would normally be. The egg-shaped spot on the lower left is where incoming small dark spots make a hairpin turn.
Put together, these images have been formed into a computer-generated animation of a flight into Jupiter's famous Red Spot:
[Via: Twisted Sifter]