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Astronomers Capture Stunning New Images of Jupiter

Three images of Jupiter from the 8-m Frederick C. Gillett Gemini North telescope at the Gemini Observatory and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show the gas giant at three different types of light (infrared, visible, and ultraviolet) and reveal a multitude of atmospheric features such as the Great Red Spot, superstorms, and cyclones stretching across the planet’s disk.

This visible-light image of Jupiter was created from data captured on January 11, 2017 using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. Near the top, a long brown feature called a ‘brown barge’ extends 72,000 km (nearly 45,000 miles) in the east-west direction. The Great Red Spot stands out prominently in the lower left, while the smaller feature nicknamed Red Spot Jr. (known to Jovian scientists as Oval BA) appears to its lower right. Image credit: NASA / ESA / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / Wong et al. / de Pater et al. / M. Zamani.

The new images of Jupiter highlight the key advantage of multiwavelength astronomy: viewing planets and other astronomical objects at different wavelengths of light allows scientists to glean otherwise unavailable insights.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a prominent feature of the visible and ultraviolet (UV) images, but it is almost invisible at infrared (IR) wavelengths. The planet’s counter-rotating bands of clouds, on the contrary, are clearly visible in all three views.

Observing the Great Red Spot at multiple wavelengths yields other surprises — the dark region in the IR image is larger than the corresponding red oval in the visible image.

This discrepancy arises because different structures are revealed by different wavelengths; the IR observations show areas covered with thick clouds, while the visible and UV observations show the locations of chromophores — the particles that give the Great Red Spot its distinctive hue by absorbing blue and UV light.

This infrared view of Jupiter was created from data captured on January 11, 2017 with the Near-InfraRed Imager on the Gemini North telescope. In the image warmer areas appear bright, including four large hot spots that appear in a row just north of the equator. South of the equator, the oval-shaped and cloud-covered Great Red Spot appears dark. Image credit: Gemini Observatory / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / Wong et al. / de Pater et al. / M. Zamani.

The Red Spot Jr. — also known as Oval BA — appears in both the visible and UV observations.

This storm — to the bottom right of its larger counterpart — formed from the merger of three similar-sized storms in 2000.

In the visible-wavelength image, it has a clearly defined red outer rim with a white center. In the IR, however, Red Spot Jr. is invisible, lost in the larger band of cooler clouds, which appear dark in the IR view.

Like the Great Red Spot, this storm is colored by chromophores that absorb solar radiation at both UV and blue wavelengths, giving it a red color in visible observations and a dark appearance at UV wavelengths.

This ultraviolet image of Jupiter was created from data captured on January 11, 2017 using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. The Great Red Spot and Red Spot Jr. absorb ultraviolet radiation from the Sun and therefore appear dark in this view. Image credit: NASA / ESA / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / Wong et al. / de Pater et al. / M. Zamani.

Just above Red Spot Jr. in the visible observations, a Jovian superstorm appears as a diagonal white streak extending toward the right side of Jupiter’s disk.

One atmospheric phenomenon that does feature prominently at IR wavelengths is a bright streak in the northern hemisphere of Jupiter.

This feature — a cyclonic vortex or perhaps a series of vortices — extends 72,000 km (nearly 45,000 miles) in the east-west direction.

At visible wavelengths the cyclone appears dark brown, leading to these types of features being called ‘brown barges’ in images from NASA’s Voyager spacecraft.

At UV wavelengths, however, the feature is barely visible underneath a layer of stratospheric haze, which becomes increasingly dark toward the north pole.

Similarly, lined up below the brown barge, four large ‘hot spots’ appear bright in the IR image but dark in both the visible and UV views.

Astronomers discovered such features when they observed Jupiter in IR wavelengths for the first time in the 1960s.

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