Hubble tracks stormy weather on giant Jupiter

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Hubble tracks stormy weather on giant Jupiter

The giant Jupiter in all its striped glory is once again seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in the latest images taken on January 5-6, 2024, covering both sides of the planet.

Hubble observes Jupiter and other outer planets of the solar system every year as part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program. This is due to the fact that these large worlds are shrouded in clouds and haze, which are stirred by strong winds, leading to a kaleidoscope of constantly changing weather conditions.

Jupiter’s clouds

The colorful clouds of Jupiter, the largest and closest of the giant planets, are an ever-changing kaleidoscope of shapes and colors. It is a planet where the weather is always stormy: cyclones, anticyclones, wind shear and the largest storm in the solar system, the Great Red Spot.

Jupiter has no solid surface and is constantly covered with ice clouds, consisting mainly of ammonia and only about 48 kilometers thick, in an atmosphere that reaches tens of thousands of kilometers in depth, which gives the planet its striped appearance.

The bands are formed by air currents moving in different directions at different latitudes at speeds approaching 560 kilometers per hour. The lighter areas where the atmosphere rises are called zones. The darker areas where the air sinks are called belts. When these opposing currents interact, storms and turbulence occur.

Hubble tracks these dynamic changes every year with unprecedented clarity, and there are always surprises. Many of the large storms and small white clouds seen in the latest Hubble images are indicative of the great activity currently taking place in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Юпітер усіяний смугами коричнево-помаранчевого, світло-сірого, ніжно-жовтого та відтінків кремового кольору, поміж багатьма великими штормами та маленькими білими хмарами
Authorship: NASA, ESA, J. DePasquale (STScI), A. Simon (NASA-GSFC)

The first image

Large enough to swallow the Earth, the classic Great Red Spot stands out prominently in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

To its right, at a more southerly latitude, is an object sometimes called Red Spot Jr. This anticyclone is the result of a merger of storms in 1998 and 2000, and it first turned red in 2006 before returning to a pale beige color in the following years.

This year it is slightly redder again. The source of the red color is unknown, but it may be related to a number of chemical compounds: sulfur, phosphorus, or organic materials.

Staying in its band, but moving in opposite directions, Red Spot Jr. passes by the Great Red Spot about every two years. Another small red anticyclone appears in the far north.

Authorship: NASA, ESA, J. DePasquale (STScI), A. Simon (NASA-GSFC)

The second image

Storm activity is also observed in the opposite hemisphere. A pair of storms, a dark red cyclone and a reddish anticyclone, appear next to each other to the right of the center.

They look so red that at first glance it looks as if Jupiter has skinned your knee. These storms rotate in opposite directions, indicating alternating high and low pressure systems.

A cyclone is characterized by an upward movement at the edges, while the clouds sink in the middle, forming a gap in the atmospheric haze. The storms are expected to bounce off each other because their opposite clockwise and counterclockwise rotation causes them to repel each other.

Closer to the left edge of the image is Galileo’s inner moon, Io, the most volcanically active body in the solar system, despite its small size (only slightly larger than the Moon).

The Hubble distinguishes between volcanic lava deposits on the surface. Hubble’s sensitivity to blue and violet wavelengths clearly reveals interesting surface features.

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