Marital drama in the solar system! Jupiter's wife tells all!
Jupiter, the gentle gas giant of our solar system, has a lot of mystery about it—like its Great Red Spot, a perpetual storm bigger than our whole planet. A concentrated effort between telescopes in space, on Earth, and the Juno probe have revealed a closer look at Jupiter than ever before.
Almost nine years ago, NASA sent the Juno spacecraft to monitor Jupiter from orbit. The name "Juno" is a particularly great joke for those familiar with Roman mythology. Jupiter (the Roman analog for Zeus), was king of the gods and had many extramarital exploits. The planet Jupiter's many moons are named after his amorous liaisons. Juno was the queen of the gods and Jupiter's wife, and it was Juno that NASA sent to go check on Jupiter and its moons. Salacious.
The Triumph of Teamwork
The new images come from a study published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series in April. Michael Wong, astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, and first author on the paper, described their goal:
"We want to know how Jupiter's atmosphere works. This is where the teamwork of Juno, Hubble and Gemini comes into play."
Wong and his team used data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Gemini Observatory, and the Juno probe over three years. The Gemini Observatory, located on the dormant volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii, is the most powerful of the three, but space weather and atmospheric effects make it hard to get a clear picture. However, by combining data from the Hubble and Juno out in space, they were able to time their shots and pierce the ever-swirling clouds of Jupiter. They call their technique "lucky imaging."
Previous looks at the Great Red Spot found puzzling black splotches amidst the swirling storm. With this new look, they've concluded those black spots are holes in the storm's atmospheric cover. Infrared light beams out of those gaps like the candlelight from inside a jack-o-lantern. But there's no ground to be seen deeper in Jupiter—the openings only show warmer, deeper layers of the gas giant. The monstrous planet still rages, as storms form around clouds of frozen and flowing water and lightning splits 400 mph winds. What a thing to see.
Any poignant thoughts on Jupiter? Would you like to visit someday? Comment below!