Incredible New Portraits of Jupiter Show its Churning Atmosphere in Different Wavelengths

New observations of Jupiter have provided some interesting highlights for its complex environment, thanks to the sharp eyes of the Gemini North and the Hubble Space Telescope.

These two instruments provided all the observations from the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum to the ultraviolet, which is beyond the reach of human light. The various features and heights of the Jovian atmosphere appear differently in the electromagnetic spectrum and provide valuable insights into what is going on in the outer layers of the largest planet in the solar system.

The part of the atmosphere we see here is hundreds of kilometers (hundreds of miles) thick. As always, the most prominent feature in visible light is the Great Red Spot. This is a storm bigger than our own planet. It covers a total of 16,350 kilometers (10,160 miles). This massive storm has been spreading for 350 years and is actively shrinking and changing. A century ago it was now less than half the width. By looking at it with visible light, infrared and ultraviolet we can quickly identify what makes it unique.

In visible light, it is the iconic red color. In ultraviolet it is a dark splash of Jovian disks. And the infrared feature disappears. We can only see because of its surroundings. So what are the different observations telling us? Although we still do not know what the Great Red Spot is made of, its molecules appear red because they absorb blue light, as can be clearly seen on the ultraviolet map. Storms and their surroundings must be created by huge clouds because they block the heat coming from the planet and that is why we do not see much in infrared. The same is true of Red Spot Jr. Two decades ago, three storms merged singly (oddly keeping the same size) to form a small ally with the Great Red Spot that is clearly visible in ultraviolet.

Infrared light illuminates hot spots; the regions appear extremely bright over longer wavelengths but are darker in visible and ultraviolet light. There are also “brown barges”, not very attractive for very bright infrared features. It is a heated cyclone (or maybe a series) extending east-west in the northern hemisphere of the planet, extending up to 72,000 kilometers (about 45,000 miles). The observation team’s leader, Mike Wong of the University of California, Berkeley said in a statement, “Gemini North observations were made possible by the location of telescopes in the Maunakea Science Reserve, adjacent to the top of Maunakea.””We are grateful for the opportunity to observe Ka‘āwela (Jupiter) from a place that is unique in both its astronomical quality and its cultural significance.”