The big astronomy news this week is the arrival of NASA’s Juno probe at Jupiter-orbit after a five year flight. Of course, for us Google Earth fans, the first question is ‘we have Google Earth, Google Moon and Google Mars, why not Google Jupiter?’.
The problem, however, with Google Jupiter, is that what we see of Jupiter, is actually its clouds and not its surface. The reason why Google Earth does not show the clouds by default and Google goes to great lengths to remove them from imagery is because they are ever changing, and the same applies to Jupiter’s clouds. There are some long term, large scale structures in the clouds such as the famous Great Red Spot, which is actually a large storm system, but even that changes shape and position over time. Even if we had the technology to see through the clouds, the surface is believed to be mostly liquid hydrogen and would again not have any static features. So, a Google Jupiter would serve almost no useful mapping purpose unless it included features not found in Google Earth.
One possibility would be to have a Google Jupiter that kept updating, but for this we would need regular imagery of the planet. To get an idea of what this would look like, see the animation below. To see it in Google Earth, download the original animation it is based on found in this post created by Google Earth Community member ‘barnabu’ back in 2006.
Of course there are other rocky planets like Mercury, which has been mapped, which would benefit from a Google Mercury, and there are many rocky moons, with Jupiter alone having 51 that are more than 10 km in diameter. There are some moons such as Saturn’s Titan which have such thick atmospheres that they will be difficult to map, but Titan does have surface features that almost certainly will be mapped eventually.