Scientists have created two new maps of Jupiter with data and images gathered over a nearly 21-hour period on January 19, 2015 by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s high performance Wide Field Camera 3.
The maps are a representation of two nearly continuous rotations of the Jovian planet. The maps and series of images will help scientists gauge the speeds of Jupiter’s winds.New Portrait Of Jupiter (NASA/ESA/Goddard/UCBerkeley/JPL-Caltech/STScI)
The new maps have also revealed some interesting new features on the giant planet.
“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 in a NASA release. “This time is no exception.”
Among them is a rare wave that was spotted just north of Jupiter’s equator in an area that is spotted with cyclones and anticyclones – a circular flow around a high pressure area. This mysterious wave had only been seen one other time and that was back in 1979 by Voyager 2 as it made its flyby of the Jovian planet.
Another is an odd and delicate filamentary streamer-like feature that was spotted for the first time at the heart of the Great Red Spot.
Jupiter’s Giant Red Spot is one of the giant planet’s most prominent features. The red spot is actually a giant storm – about 28,000 km long and 14,000 km wide – that spins counterclockwise in planet’s southern hemisphere. Scientists say that the storm, which is similar to a hurricane here on Earth, has been raging for several hundred years.
The scientists studying the new maps said that these streamers were seen twisting and turning as they were buffeted by the red spot’s powerful storm at speeds of 150 meters per second or more.
The new series of Hubble images also verified previous observations that the Great Red Spot is continuing to get smaller and more circular in shape.
The Hubble image gathering and map creation are part of a program called the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program.
Hubble has also gathered images for maps of two other outer planets – Neptune and Uranus – as part of the OPAL program.
The program will image and create new maps of these planets annually.
NASA said that Saturn will be added to the OPAL planet survey in a couple of years.
“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,” said co-author Michael H. Wong of the University of California, Berkeley.
The first results from the OPAL program’s 2015 Jupiter survey has been published in the Astrophysical Journal and is available online.