In July of 1979, NASA’s Voyager 2 reached Jupiter. During its closest encounter with the gas giant, Voyager 2 spotted a wave in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
“Until now, we thought the wave seen by Voyager 2 might have been a fluke,” said co-author Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “As it turns out, it’s just rare!”
The Hubble Space Telescope spotted the wave again at about 16 degrees north latitude. Check out the false-color image below (the arrows mark cyclones and the vertical lines are the wave).
Researchers believe the wave forms in a clear layer beneath the clouds. It becomes visible as it spreads up into the cloud deck. The spacing between the wave crests supports this theory.
The Great Red Spot continues to shrink
Jupiter’s most prominent feature continues to shrink in size. According to NASA, the long axis of the storm is about 150 miles shorter today than it was in 2014. Previous measurements showed the Great Red Spot was shrinking faster than usual, but the latest change is more consistent with the long-term shrinking researchers are observing.
“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 latest tantalizing hint is a thin filament that stretches for nearly the entire width of the vortex. You can see how it twists and rotates along with the gigantic storm in the GIF below.
Latest images are part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program
Researchers used Hubble’s high-performance Wide Field Camera 3 to create two global maps of Jupiter. Because the two maps represent nearly back-to-back rotations of Jupiter, researchers can determine the speeds of Jupiter’s winds.
NASA Goddard put the two global maps together in the 4K video below.
The Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program is designed to show how Jupiter and other gas giants change over time. Researchers can figure this out by observing a host of changes in a planet’s atmosphere including winds, clouds, storms and atmospheric chemistry.
“The long-term value of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program is really exciting,” said study co-author Michael H. Wong of the University of California, Berkeley. “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.”
Image credits: NASA