This color image of Jupiter was taken by the camera onboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft when it was 81.3 million kilometers (50.5 million miles) from the planet. It is composed of images taken in the blue, green, and red regions of the spectrum and is therefore close to the true color of Jupiter that one would see through an Earth-based telescope.
The image is remarkably similar to images taken by NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft more than 21 years ago, illustrating the stability of Jupiter's weather patterns. The parallel dark and bright bands and many other large-scale features are quasi- permanent structures that survive despite the intense small-scale activity ongoing in the atmosphere. The longevity of the large- scale features is an intrinsic property of the atmospheric flows on a gaseous planet such as Jupiter, with no solid surface. Smaller features, such as those in the dark bands north and south of the equator, are observed to form and disappear in a few days.
Everything visible on the planet is a cloud. Unlike Earth, where only water condenses to form clouds, Jupiter has several cloud-forming substances in its atmosphere. The updrafts and downdrafts bring different mixtures of these substances up from below, leading to clouds of different colors. The bluish features just north of the equator are regions of reduced cloud cover, similar to the place where the Galileo atmospheric probe entered in 1995. They are called "hot spots" because the reduced cloud cover allows heat to escape from warmer, deeper levels in the atmosphere.
Jupiter's moon Europa is seen at the right, casting a shadow on the planet. Scientists believe Europa holds promise of a liquid ocean beneath its surface.
Cassini is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Cassini mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.