Massive Jupiter is undergoing dramatic atmospheric changes that have never been
seen before with the keen "eye" of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Jupiter's turbulent clouds are always changing as they encounter atmospheric
disturbances while sweeping around the planet at hundreds of miles per hour. But
these Hubble images reveal a rapid transformation in the shape and color of
Jupiter's clouds near the equator, marking an entire face of the globe.
The planet is wrapped in bands of yellows, browns, and whites. These bands
are produced by the atmosphere flowing in different directions at various
latitudes. Lighter-hued areas where the atmosphere rises are called zones.
Darker regions where the atmosphere falls are called belts. When these opposing
flows interact, storms and turbulence appear.
Between March 25 and June 5, Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2
captured entire bands of clouds changing color. Zones have darkened into belts
and belts have lightened and transformed into zones. Cloud features have rapidly
altered in shape and size.
The image at left shows a thin band of white clouds above Jupiter's equator.
The white colour indicates clouds at higher altitudes in Jupiter's atmosphere.
In the image at right, the band's white hue has turned brown, showing clouds
deep within the planet's atmosphere. The whole band appears to have merged with
the one below it.
In the same cloud band above the equator, the small swirls in the left-hand
image have morphed into larger wave-like features in the right-hand photo.
Dominating the band is a dark streak that resembles a snake. This serpent-shaped
structure is actually a small tear in the cloud deck, which gives astronomers a
view deep within the atmosphere.
Below the equatorial region, the brownish upside-down shark fin in the
left-hand image disappears in the photo at right. Appearing instead are brownish
tongue-shaped clouds with a stream of white swirls below them.
These global upheavals have been seen before, but not with Hubble's sharp
resolution. Astronomers using ground-based telescopes first spied drastic
atmospheric transformation in the 1980s. Another major disturbance was seen in
the early 1990s, after Hubble was launched into space. The telescope, however,
did not have the resolution to view the upheaval in fine detail. These
higher-quality Hubble images may help astronomers understand how such global
upheavals develop on Jupiter.
For additional information, contact:
Donna Weaver/Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
Dr. Amy Simon-Miller
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Object Name: Jupiter
ESA, A. Simon-Miller (NASA
Goddard Space Flight Center), A. Sánchez-Lavega, R. Hueso, and S. Pérez-Hoyos
(University of the Basque Country), E. García-Melendo (Esteve Duran Observatory
Foundation, Spain), and G. Orton (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)