Science

Astronomers Understand The Weather On Jupiter With These Incredible High-Res Images

"Because we now routinely have these high-resolution views from a couple of different observatories and wavelengths, we are learning so much more about Jupiter's weather", Amy Simon, a planetary scientist for NASA, stated. Using what is known as the "lucky imaging" technique, scientists have created one of the sharpest infrared images of Jupiter ever taken from Earth, helping to reveal its weather systems, lightning and iconic Great Red Spot in exciting new detail.

Observations from this stellar "dream team" have produced stunning images and revealed what's happening inside Jupiter's giant, continuous storms.

The process of "lucky imaging" involves taking numerous images of the planet at multiple exposures in one night, and keeping the sharpest ones that are not blurred by the atmosphere of Earth. Through the telescope's infrared imaging capabilities, they were able to spot the planet from Earth.

Fortunately, the accumulated work of researchers, using combined data from he Gemini Observatory, the Juno spacecraft, and the Hubble Space Telescope, has provided the opportunity to probe Jupiter's system of storms. "We used a very powerful technique called lucky imaging", said Michael Wong of University of California, Berkeley, who led the research team, in an article published by The Guardian. This is what leads to the spooky "jack o'-lantern" effect in the mosaic image seen at the top of the page.

Juno has made 26 flybys of the gas giant to date, which means the trio of observatories have built up quite a data set about Jupiter's atmosphere, and scientists have only released the most preliminary findings to date.

Long wave infrared light allows you to plunge deep into the thick and dense atmosphere of Jupiter. Perhaps, this will explain some of the mysteries which lie in Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

Hubble observes visible and ultraviolet. However, researchers were not sure if features were caused by an actual dark material in the clouds or holes in the clouds showing layers below.

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"It's kind of like a jack-o-lantern", said Wong. He also noted this bright infrared light comes from cloud-free parts, "where there are clouds, it's dark in the infrared". Juno records radio signals from lightning in Jupiter's storms.

To solve this, each time the Juno spacecraft makes a low pass over Jupiter's cloud-tops - a "perijove" - astronomers point Hubble and Gemini at the planet.

As Juno circles Jupiter, it picks up radio waves from lightning strikes deep within the planet's atmosphere.

With Juno flying over the cloud tops, and Hubble and Gemini observing the entire planet from afar, they liken it to the combination used by weather forecasters here at home.

The Hubble data show the height of the thick clouds in the convective towers, as well as the depth of deep water clouds.

The ability to correlate lightning with deep water clouds also gives researchers another tool for estimating the amount of water in Jupiter's atmosphere, which is important for understanding how Jupiter and the other gas and ice giants formed, and therefore how the solar system as a whole formed. "Ongoing studies of lightning sources will help us understand how convection on Jupiter is different from or similar to convection in the Earth's atmosphere".



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