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Internal Heat Drives Jupiter's Giant Storm Eruption

Internal Heat Drives Jupiter's Giant Storm Eruption

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Detailed analysis of two continent-sized storms that erupted in Jupiter's atmosphere in March 2007 shows that Jupiter's internal heat plays a significant role in generating atmospheric disturbances. Understanding this outbreak could be the key to unlock the mysteries buried in the deep Jovian atmosphere, say astronomers.

Understanding these phenomena is important for Earth's meteorology where storms are present everywhere and jet streams dominate the atmospheric circulation. Jupiter is a natural laboratory where atmospheric scientists study the nature and interplay of the intense jets and severe atmospheric phenomena.

An international team coordinated by Agustin Sánchez-Lavega from the Universidad del País Vasco in Spain presents its findings about this event in the January 24 issue of the journal Nature.

The team monitored the new eruption of cloud activity and its evolution with an unprecedented resolution using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, and telescopes in the Canary Islands (Spain). A network of smaller telescopes around the world also supported these observations.

According to the analysis, the bright plumes were storm systems triggered in Jupiter's deep water clouds that moved upward in the atmosphere vigorously and injected a fresh mixture of ammonia ice and water about 20 miles (30 kilometers) above the visible clouds. The storms moved in the peak of a jet stream in Jupiter's atmosphere at 375 miles per hour (600 kilometers per hour). Models of the disturbance indicate that the jet stream extends deep in the buried atmosphere of Jupiter, more than 60 miles (approximately100 kilometers) below the cloud tops where most sunlight is absorbed.

For additional information, contact:

Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
410-338-4514
villard@stsci.edu

Carolina Carnalla-Martinez
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif
818-354-9382
carnalla@jpl.nasa.gov

Agustin Sánchez-Lavega
Universidad del País Vasco, Spain
011-34-94-601-4255
agustin.sanchez@ehu.es

Object Name: Jupiter

Image Type: Astronomical/Illustration

Credit: NASA, ESA, IRTF, and A. Sánchez-Lavega and R. Hueso (Universidad del País Vasco, Spain )

The changing stripes of Jupiter

Captured by Hubble

The changing stripes of the planet Jupiter

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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.
410-338-4493/4514; dweaver@stsci.edu/villard@stsci.edu

Dr. Amy Simon-Miller
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
301-286-6738; amy.simon@nasa.gov

Object Name: Jupiter

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: NASA, 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)


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