Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2010 January 24

Watch Jupiter Rotate
Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute

Explanation: What would it be like to coast by Jupiter and watch it rotate? This was just the experience of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approached and flew by Jupiter in 2007. Clicking on the image will bring up a movie of what the robotic spacecraft saw. Visible above in the extensive atmosphere of the Solar System's largest planet are bands and belts of light and dark clouds, as well as giant rotating storm systems seen as ovals. Other movies compiled by New Horizons and other passing spacecraft have captured the clouds swirling and moving relative to themselves. Jupiter has a diameter of about eleven times that of our Earth, and rotates once in about 10 hours. The robotic New Horizons spacecraft, launched four years ago last week, continues to speed toward the outer Solar System and has recently passed the halfway point between Earth and Pluto. New Horizons will reach Pluto in 2015.

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