New Colorful Photos of Jupiter Reveal Its Strange Atmosphere

NASA’s just released a striking trio of images that capture Jupiter in three different wavelengths of light. The three images, captured by multiple spacecrafts—including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope—not only dazzle with their vibrant colors, but also offer three separate looks at Jupiter’s atmosphere. It’s a strange place full of lightning bolts, sprites, FM radio signals, and superstorms.

NASA has released images of Jupiter captured in infrared, ultraviolet, and visible wavelengths of light, and the juxtaposition of the three side to side is incredible.

Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab, M.H. Wong, et al.

The space agency recently released the photos, which Hubble and the Gemini North Observatory in Hawaii captured in 2017. A team of researchers, led by UC Berkeley astronomer Mike Wong, selected the images from a trove produced by the space- and ground-based telescopes. In the latter case, computer algorithms selected exposures most free of distortion from Earth’s own atmosphere.

The results of Wong and his colleagues’ efforts are three stunning looks at the Jovian atmosphere. In the image above, the three images stand (float?) shoulder to shoulder. The infrared image on the left, the visible image in the middle, and the ultraviolet image on the right. (Wong et al. have also been using the Juno spacecraft to collect FM data from lightning storms in the Jovian atmosphere.)

A fiery infrared image of Jupiter.

NASA/ESA/M.H. Wong, et al.

While each wavelength offers its own beauty, the infrared image stands out as especially fiery. The brightest line in the image—the thick, swirly streak in the northern hemisphere—is a cyclonic vortex. Or perhaps a series of vortices. The atmospheric event spans 45,000 miles in the east-west direction. Thanks to its relative heat and movement, it stands out as especially brilliant.

A cool, ultraviolet image of Jupiter.

NASA/ESA/M.H. Wong, et al.

There are features of Jupiter that remain clearly recognizable in all three images, however. For instance, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot—the persistent storm system big enough to swallow Earth whole. Although, in the infrared, it appears as a ring of fire around a pupil of darkness. (Like the Eye of Sauron, or a black hole.)

The standard, visible image of Jupiter.

NASA/ESA/M.H. Wong, et al.

The task for Wong and his colleagues now is to continue to track changes in the Jovian atmosphere; particularly looking at how the planet’s cloud features change over time. On a more mysterious note, Wong is also trying to figure out why Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is shrinking. This is unfortunate, as the gargantuan storm is, clearly, the signature beauty mark of the planet.

Feature image: NASA/ESA/M.H. Wong, et al.

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