In a phenomenon called pareidolia, humans can find shapes in what is otherwise just random data. Is Flipper actually splashing across Jupiter's atmosphere? Obviously not. But a new series of images that showcase a dolphin-shaped cloud moving across Jupiter's southern belt is really enjoyable to look at.
Citizen-scientists Brian Swift and Seán Doran made the images using data from the JunoCam imager, an instrument on board NASA's Juno spacecraft. On Oct. 29, the spacecraft performed its 16th close flyby of Jupiter.
According to a Nov. 30 NASA photo description, the images that appear in the dolphin series were taken between 2:26 p.m. and 2:46 p.m. PDT (5:26 p.m. and 5:56 p.m. EDT) that day, from about 11,400 miles to 31,700 miles (18,400 to 51,000 kilometers) above Jupiter's atmosphere.
While NASA released the photo to the public on Nov. 30, photographer Seán Doran (one of its creators) showcased the image weeks earlier in a Nov. 7 Twitter post. Doran has been processing amazing images of Jupiter based on Juno data since the spacecraft arrived at the gas giant, and along with other space imagery and video based on actual spacecraft data.
The dolphin appears to be swimming through cloud bands along Jupiter's South South Temperate Belt. Juno captured this scene at about 32 to 59 degrees south latitude.
The Juno mission has been gathering observations of the largest planet in the solar system since arriving in July 2016. It's currently scheduled to remain operational until 2021.