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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Nasa releases new maps of Jupiter
The colour maps are the most detailed yet (Image: Nasa/JPL/Space Science Institute)

The US space agency (Nasa) has released the most detailed colour maps of the planet Jupiter ever produced.

The stunning maps were pieced together by researchers from images taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it approached Jupiter on 11 and 12 December 2000.

Raw images exist in only two colours so the maps were coloured to show how Jupiter would appear to the naked eye.

They consist of one cylindrical map of the planet along with north and south polar maps of Jupiter.

The maps were created from 36 frames captured by Cassini as it passed the giant planet on a gravity assist manoeuvre to get it to Saturn.

Cassini arrived in Saturn orbit on 1 July 2004.

Chaotic scene

The maps show a variety of colourful cloud features, including parallel reddish-brown and white bands, the Great Red Spot, multi-lobed chaotic regions, white ovals and many small vortices.

Many clouds appear in streaks and waves due to continual stretching and folding by Jupiter's winds and by turbulence.

The maps were pieced together from images taken by the Cassini probe (Image: Nasa/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Small bright spots within the orange band north of the equator are lightning-bearing thunderstorms.

Recently, astronomers have noted that Jupiter appears to be "growing" another red spot, which they have nicknamed "Red Jr".

Both red spots are actually raging storms in Jupiter's cloud layer, but scientists don't yet know how they get their characteristic brick colour.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is twice as wide as our planet and at least 300 years old.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of Nasa, the European Space Agency (Esa) and the Italian Space Agency (Asi).

Jupiter growing another red spot
07 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature

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