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A deep dive into Jupiter’s clouds

New images reveal how storms develop 500 million miles from Earth

Final images from the Gemini Observatory, are the highest-resolution infrared views of Jupiter ever taken from the ground.
Final images from the Gemini Observatory, are the highest-resolution infrared views of Jupiter ever taken from the ground. (International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA)

New weather images show the highest resolution ever on Jupiter from Earth-based telescopes.

Astronomers are interested in learning more about Jupiter's atmosphere because it may support current ideas on how our solar system formed.

Striking images of the giant gas planet reveal a glowing jack-o-lantern where dark colors are actually holes in the cloud cover in the famous Great Red Spot.

Infrared light beams out of those gaps like the candlelight from inside a jack-o-lantern.

In addition to the ground-based Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, combining imagery from the space-based Hubble Telescope along with the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, uncover some of the mystery about the mightiest storms in our solar system swirling on Jupiter.

Lightning strikes, and some of the largest storm systems that create them, are formed in and around large convective cells over deep clouds of water ice and liquid.

Upper left (wide view) and lower left (detail): The Hubble image of sunlight (visible wavelengths) reflecting off clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere shows dark features within the Great Red Spot. Upper right: A thermal infrared image of the same area from Gemini shows heat energy emitted as infrared light. Cool overlying clouds appear as dark regions, but clearings in the clouds allow bright infrared emission to escape from warmer layers below.
Upper left (wide view) and lower left (detail): The Hubble image of sunlight (visible wavelengths) reflecting off clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere shows dark features within the Great Red Spot. Upper right: A thermal infrared image of the same area from Gemini shows heat energy emitted as infrared light. Cool overlying clouds appear as dark regions, but clearings in the clouds allow bright infrared emission to escape from warmer layers below. (JPL)

By combining observations captured at almost the same time from the two different observatories, astronomers were able to determine that dark features on the Great Red Spot are holes in the clouds rather than masses of dark material.

While scanning the gas giant for gaps in cloud cover, Gemini spotted a telltale glow in the Great Red Spot, indicating a clear view down to deep, warmer atmospheric layers.

“Similar features have been seen in the Great Red Spot before,” said Glenn Orton, team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But 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.”


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