Telescope captures a historical image of Jupiter

Jupiter is known for its massive storms, but trying to peer inside them requires teamwork by the Juno spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope and the ground-based Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. The combined technology of Gemini Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope shows an image of Jupiter that looks like a Halloween pumpkin. Together, they combine multiwavelength observations from Hubble and Gemini with close-up views from Juno's orbit to gain new insights into turbulent weather on this distant world. Juno is ready to capture the radio signals emitted by lightning in Jupiter storms. Also called "sferics" and "whistlers", these radio signals can be used to map lightning even beneath Jupiter's heavy clouds. The Hubble and Gemini data can tell us how thick the clouds are and how deep we are seeing in the clouds, "said Amy Simon, senior scientist for research on planetary atmospheres in the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, in a statement".

As the largest and one of the most iconic planets in our solar system, Jupiter has been observed countless times over the years. Jupiter's lightning carries up to three times the energy of the most powerful lightning that strikes on Earth. The photographs confirmed the nice and cozy, deep layers of Jupiter's environment glowing by means of gaps in thick cloud cowl. It has something to do with the Sun's way of warming Jupiter, which is different from the way it warms Earth, with Jupiter being much further away from the Sun. The Gemini data clearly reveal the clearings in the high-level clouds where it is possible to get a glimpse down to the deep water clouds. Jupiter's lightning and large storms form both in and around large cells under deep, moist clouds.

Michael Wong, of UC Berkeley, led the research team on the project and said: "These images rival the view from space".

Their latest results, now online in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, show that lightning outbreaks are associated with a three-way combination of cloud structures: deep clouds made of water, large convective towers caused by upwelling of moist air - essentially Jovian thunderheads - and clear regions presumably caused by downwelling of drier air outside the convective towers.

While multiple unmanned space missions have visited Jupiter, researchers still have many questions about how this gas giant formed and the processes occurring on the planet.

"We want to know how Jupiter's atmosphere works", said Wong.

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Jupiter, seen through the technique of "lucky imagery". The image is oriented so Jupiter's poles (not visible) run left-to-right of frame.

For the past three years, researchers have used Jupiter imagery by Gemini and Hubble to understand the wind patterns, atmospheric waves, and cyclones of Jupiter.

"This is our equivalent of a weather satellite", said Simon adding that they can finally start looking at weather cycles.

The new observations also confirm that dark spots in the famous Great Red Spot are actually gaps in the cloud cover and not due to cloud colour variations.

Images from Juno as well as previous missions to Jupiter revealed dark features within the Great Red Spot that appear, disappear and change shape over time.

  • Douglas Reid