Friday, August 9, 2019

Hubble Catches Jupiter's Vibrant Colors

New Hubble Space Telescope view of Jupiter, taken on June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center) and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)

A new Hubble Space Telescope view of Jupiter, taken on June 27, 2019, reveals the giant planet's trademark Great Red Spot, and 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 colorful bands of ammonia clouds, 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.

The Great Red Spot is a towering structure, whose upper haze layer extends more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) higher than clouds in other areas. The gigantic ovoid 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.

In recent months observers have seen some changes in the Red Spot, described as "flaking." However, the data indicates that the Spot is not going to disappear any time soon. Its position has never shifted. Twin jet streams that circle the planet in opposite directions lock the storm in place.

Observations of Jupiter have come a long way from the early days of the planet's exploration. On October 18, 1989 the space probe Galileo, named after Galileo Galilei, was launched to study the planet Jupiter. The space probe orbited Jupiter 35 times then in 2003 was terminated by sending it into Jupiter's atmosphere at a speed of over 48 kilometers per second (30 mi/s), eliminating the possibility of contaminating local moons with Earth bacteria.

The Galileo probe took close-ups on Jupiter’s rings and found evidence that its icy moons might hold atmosphere.

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