Stunning new Jupiter portrait reveals turbulent storms and Great Red Spot

James Marshall
August 9, 2019

The Earth-orbiting Hubble turns its eyes to all the outer solar system planets at least once a year to check on their weather.

Colorful bands of clouds move around the Great Red Spot. Astronomers are still unsure of why cloud bands change colors or why storms become smaller, however, a new Hubble Space Telescope portrait gives a close-up look at Jupiter's unpredictable atmosphere and might provide some insights on the planet's dynamic activity.

Though much remains unknown about the fifth planet from the sun, photos and a brief video clip published by NASA on Thursday could help scientists inch toward unlocking the world's mysteries.

This new Hubble Space Telescope view of Jupiter, taken on June 27, 2019, reveals the giant planet's trademark Great Red Spot, and a more intense color palette in the clouds swirling in Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere than seen in previous years. Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 observed Jupiter when the planet was 400 million miles (640 million kilometers) from Earth, when Jupiter was near "opposition", or nearly directly opposite the sun in the sky.

The images are taken in visible light as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, which is run by Amy Simons of Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, with the assistance of Wong and Glenn Orton of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Parallel cloud bands also stand out.

The Great Red Spot storm, which has lasted 150 years that we know of, is continuing to shrink - but astronomers don't know why. These hues and their changes can provide important details on Jupiter's evolving atmosphere.

The Great Red Spot, which is shaped like a wedding cake, has an upper haze layer that reaches more than three miles higher than clouds in other areas.

Below the Great Red Spot is a shape similar to a worm, but it's really a cyclone spinning in the opposite direction of the storm above it. They are created by ammonia ice clouds that vary in height and thickness, with air flowing in different directions, depending on their latitudes. The Gas Giant's bands are kept apart by winds that can reach speeds of up to 400 miles per hour, according to NASA.

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