jupiter
Image: NASA/JPL

As corks popped all over Earth this past weekend, Cassini recorded a different kind of snapping and crackling on Jupiter. The spacecraft, en route to Saturn, came its closest yet to Jupiter--within about 9.7 million kilometers--at 2:12 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on December 30, collecting photos, video and audio. The natural radio emissions Cassini picked up, like earlier recordings, are created by waves derived from an interaction of the gas giant's magnetic field with the stream of particles racing from the Sun, known as the solar wind. The sounds were found farther out from the planet's surface than expected. The new close-up images revealed information about Jupiter's weather, which could shed light on storm patterns here at home. "The weather is different on Jupiter," said Andrew Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology. "You have a 300-year-old storm. We'd like to know why Jupiter's weather is so stable, and Earth's is so transient." In particular, the pictures and movies showed that small storms on Jupiter can merge or rip apart as they pass each other. Small features in the atmosphere harvest energy from below the cloud surface, and larger storms consume the smaller ones. "The camera has performed beyond our wildest imaginings," said Carolyn Porco of the University of Arizona, "and that's saying something, because we've been imagining this for a decade now."