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Hubble’s new portrait of Jupiter

Large round planet with many white, brown, red, and orange bands and a prominent oval red spot.
View larger. | Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 was used to observe Jupiter at its opposition this past June, when Earth was passing between Jupiter and the sun, placing Jupiter opposite the sun in our sky with its fully lighted hemisphere facing Earth. Jupiter was also about at its closest for the year (about 400 million miles from Earth) in June. Image via NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute/

NASA and Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore released this new Hubble Space Telescope view of Jupiter on August 8, 2019. The telescope acquired the image on June 27. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s reminiscent of some spacecraft images. Space fans waiting for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope – which will be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope – will have to wait until 2021, but, in the meantime, Hubble’s still got it!

The image reveals Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which appeared to be disintegrating earlier this year, or at least changing, and which appears on the small side in this image, but still fairly robust. The Great Red Spot is a vast storm, which has been seen raging on Jupiter for hundreds of years. There’s a good article about it published today in The Atlantic, which you can find here: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Is Behaving Strangely .

In the meantime, enjoy this new Hubble image. NASA wrote that it also reveals:

… a more intense color palette in the clouds swirling in Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere than seen in previous years. The colors, and their changes, provide important clues to ongoing processes in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The bands are created by differences in the thickness and height of the ammonia ice clouds. The colorful bands, which flow in opposite directions at various latitudes, result from different atmospheric pressures. Lighter bands rise higher and have thicker clouds than the darker bands.

Among the most striking features in the image are the rich colors of the clouds moving toward the Great Red Spot, a storm rolling counterclockwise between two bands of clouds. These two cloud bands, above and below the Great Red Spot, are moving in opposite directions. The red band above and to the right (northeast) of the Great Red Spot contains clouds moving westward and around the north of the giant tempest. The white clouds to the left (southwest) of the storm are moving eastward to the south of the spot.

All of Jupiter’s colorful cloud bands in this image are confined to the north and south by jet streams that remain constant, even when the bands change color. The bands are all separated by winds that can reach speeds of up to 400 miles (644 km) per hour.

On the opposite side of the planet, the band of deep red color northeast of the Great Red Spot and the bright white band to the southeast of it become much fainter. The swirling filaments seen around the outer edge of the red super storm are high-altitude clouds that are being pulled in and around it.

The Great Red Spot is a towering structure shaped like a wedding cake, whose upper haze layer extends more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) higher than clouds in other areas. The gigantic structure, with a diameter slightly larger than Earth’s, is a high-pressure wind system called an anticyclone that has been slowly downsizing since the 1800s. The reason for this change in size is still unknown.

A worm-shaped feature located below the Great Red Spot is a cyclone, a vortex around a low-pressure area with winds spinning in the opposite direction from the Red Spot. Researchers have observed cyclones with a wide variety of different appearances across the planet. The two white oval-shaped features are anticyclones, like small versions of the Great Red Spot.

Another interesting detail is the color of the wide band at the equator. The bright orange color may be a sign that deeper clouds are starting to clear out, emphasizing red particles in the overlying haze.

Hubble acquired this image in visible light as part of its Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy program (OPAL). NASA’s goal for this program is to use the Hubble telescope to provide global views of the outer planets and look for changes in their storms, winds, and clouds.

Black-and-white image of great banded planet, showing motion along the bands, with a prominent spot.
Time-lapse sequence from the approach of the Voyager 1 spacecraft to Jupiter – acquired January 6 to February 3, 1979 – showing the motion of atmospheric bands, and circulation of the Great Red Spot. Image via NASA-JPL/Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom line: New Hubble Space Telescope portrait of Jupiter.


August 9, 2019

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