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Scientists unveil dramatic new portrait of Jupiter

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Posted October 16, 2015

With the aid of UC Berkeley astronomer Michael Wong, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope team has produced a dramatic new video of a rotating Jupiter, its bands and famed Great Red Spot standing out among swirling Technicolor clouds.

The video was created from new global maps of the planet, the first in a series of annual portraits of the solar system’s outer planets from the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program (OPAL).

Image credit: NASA

Image credit: NASA

“The long-term value of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program is really exciting,” said Wong, an assistant researcher and member of the Hubble team. “The collection of maps that we will build up over time will not only help scientists understand the atmospheres of our giant planets, but also the atmospheres of planets being discovered around other stars, and Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, too.”

Wong will participate in a Google Hangout discussion about Jupiter organized by NASA on Thursday, Oct. 15, at 3 pm EDT (noon PDT) at https://hbbl.us/y6C.

Already, the Jupiter images have revealed a rare wave just north of the planet’s equator and a unique filamentary feature in the core of the Great Red Spot not seen previously.

“Every time we look at Jupiter, we get tantalizing hints that something really exciting is going on,” said Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This time is no exception.”

The two Jupiter maps, representing nearly back-to-back rotations of the planet on Jan. 19, 2015, show the movements of the clouds and make it possible to determine the speeds of Jupiter’s winds. The Hubble observations confirm that the Great Red Spot continues to shrink and become more circular. In addition, an unusual wispy filament is seen, spanning almost the entire width of the vortex.

The collection of maps to be obtained over time from the OPAL program will not only help scientists understand the atmospheres of our giant planets, Wong said, but also the atmospheres of planets being discovered around other stars.

The findings are described in a new paper by Wong, Simon and Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, published online in the October issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

For more visuals and information about this study, visit NASA’s website.

Source: UC Berkeley

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