If Jupiter isn’t one thing, then it certainly is not calm. We could say that Jupiter is the Wild West of our solar system. The Gas Giant’s surface is wrecked by massive storms and powerful cloud systems that encircle the entire planet, which in some places even extends to depths that are much thicker than the atmospheric distance between our planet and space.
Jupiter is so alien to us that its storms and weather, in general, are unlike anything we’ve ever seen on Earth, a reason why astronomers have not been able to fully understand the gas giant’s weather mechanisms.
The best way for us to learn more about Jupiter and its powerful storms is to observe it, and the Hubble Telescope and Gemini Observatory are helping us do that. A new series of observations have offered astronomers another piece of the puzzle in understanding the Gas giant: we’ve recently obtained refreshing near-infrared and political images that help reveal some of Jupiter’s secrets.
The observations come in two parts.
First, Gemini observations in near-infrared (NIRI) have managed to capture thermal radiation glowing through the massive, thick clouds of Jupiter. Combined with observations from Hubble’s optical images, astronomers are able to stitch two images into one, creating an override of the internal and external activities of the gas giant.
“The Gemini data were critical because they allowed us to probe deeply into Jupiter’s clouds on a regular schedule,” said Michael Wong of UC Berkeley, who led the research team.
“We used a very powerful technique called lucky imaging,” adds Wong.
The combined images have revealed unprecedented data. Jupiter’s regions of cloud that seem dark in optical observations (Hubble) are the ones that glow most brightly in infrared (Gemini), somewhat that tells us that those specific regions have little to no clouds, compared to much lighter bands.
The images are part of a multi-year joint observation program with the Hubble Space telescope and Juno observations.
“It’s kind of like a jack-o-lantern,” revealed astronomer Michael Wong of the University of California, Berkeley. “You see bright infrared light coming from cloud-free areas, but where there are clouds, it’s really dark in the infrared.”
As explained by Science Alert, this included a line curving around the edge of the famous Great Red Spot, a gigantic storm system that has remained active for decades and is larger than the entire planet. Although similar features were observed in storms before, scientists were not sure what was the cause behind them.
Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained that “Visible-light observation couldn’t distinguish between darker cloud material, and thinner cloud cover over Jupiter’s warm interior, so their nature remained a mystery.”
But the combination of observations managed to clear up that question. By comparing two sets of images, astronomers observed a glowing infrared arc that nearly mated to an optical shadow, revealing that the coloration marked a crack within the storm’s powerful clouds.
But even greater details of Jupiter’s clouds were revealed when scientists combined the data obtained by Hubble and Gemini with data from NASA’s Jupiter orbiter Juno. The spacecraft has been making flybys of the gas giant’s poles and, along the way, detecting radio signals from extremely powerful lightning strikes on Jupiter. The first flyby’s revealed as many as 377 lightning strikes around the polar regions of Jupiter. This is unlike what happens on Earth, where lighting strikes and storms are more common around the equator.
This is explained by how the sun interacts with the planets. On both Jupiter and Earth, the equator is heated by the Sun. On our planet, this created convection currents that drive tropic thunderstorms while on Jupiter, the heat generated by the sun is much fainter, which stabilizes the upper atmosphere. However, scientists believe that this heat doesn’t get far from there equator, which means it doesn’t reach Jupiter’s poles, why makes them more tempestuous.