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Moon and Planets III

February 26, 2012

Art and science intersect in beautiful fashion in the cloudtops of Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system.

The planet is beautiful enough just to the naked eye. Tonight, it looks even better than usual because it's just to the left of the crescent Moon in the evening sky. Jupiter looks like a brilliant cream-colored star. Even-brighter Venus, the "evening star," is well below Jupiter and the Moon.

Close-up images from spacecraft at Jupiter reveal even greater beauty, though — streamers and curls of soft color that look like the bold brushstrokes of an Impressionist painter.

Jupiter is basically a big ball of gas that's topped by clouds made of water, ammonia, sulfur, and other compounds. The giant planet spins on its axis once every 10 hours, which stretches the clouds into globe-circling bands.

But those bands are quite dynamic. Strong winds, rapidly rising clouds, and the interplay of adjoining bands create swirls, streamers, pinwheels, and other beautiful shapes. They're colored in shades of white, blue, tan, and orange by different chemical compounds.

Many of these artistic creations are really storm systems that are thousands of miles across. The largest of all, the Great Red Spot, is twice as wide as Earth. It, too, has a painterly look, with spiraling bands that resemble the sky in Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night" — broad brushstrokes painted in the sky of a giant, dynamic world.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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