Webb Space Telescope Reveals New Feature in Jupiter’s Atmosphere – “Totally Surprised Us”

This image of Jupiter from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera) shows stunning detail of the majestic planet in infrared light. In this image, brightness indicates high altitude. Many bright white “dots” and “stripes” may be the highest cloud tops of convergent convective storms. The auroras, seen in red in this image, extend high above the planet’s north and south poles. In contrast, the dark ribbons north of the equator have little cloud cover. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Ricardo Hueso (UPV), Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley), Thierry Fouchet (Observatory of Paris), Leigh Fletcher (University of Leicester), Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley), Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

The narrow jet stream near Jupiter’s equator has winds of up to 320 miles per hour.

Thursday Our solar system has the most obvious atmospheric features. The planet’s Great Red Spot, large enough to encompass Earth, is known as some of the various rivers and mountains on the planet we call home.

However, like Earth, Jupiter is always changing, and we still have much to learn about the planet. NASAs The James Webb Space Telescope It unlocks some of those mysteries, revealing new features we’ve never seen before, including a high-speed jet hurtling over Jupiter’s equator. Although the jet stream is not as visually obvious or awe-inspiring as some other features of Jupiter, it provides researchers with incredible insight into how the layers of the planet’s atmosphere interact with each other and how the web can help these studies in the future.

Jupiter's Jet Pullouts (Web NIRCam Image)

Researchers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera) have discovered a high-speed jet stream sitting above Jupiter’s equator, above the main cloud layers. At 2.12 micron wavelengths between about 12-21 miles (20-35 kilometers) above Jupiter’s cloud tops, the researchers found several wind shears, or regions where wind speed changes with altitude or distance. Track the jet. This image highlights several features around Jupiter’s equatorial region, which, between one revolution of the planet (10 hours), are most clearly disturbed by the movement of the jet stream. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Ricardo Hueso (UPV), Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley), Thierry Fouchet (Observatory of Paris), Leigh Fletcher (University of Leicester), Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley), Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

The Webb Space Telescope has discovered a new feature in Jupiter’s atmosphere

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has discovered a new, never-before-seen feature in Jupiter’s atmosphere. The high-speed jet stream, 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) wide, sits above Jupiter’s equator above the main cloud layers. The discovery of this jet provides insights into how the layers of Jupiter’s famously turbulent atmosphere interact, and how the web is uniquely capable of tracking those features.

“It was something that completely surprised us,” said Ricardo Hueso of the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, lead author on the paper describing the findings. “What we’ve always seen as faint hazes in Jupiter’s atmosphere now appear as smooth features that can be tracked along with the planet’s rapid rotation.”

Webb’s unique imaging capabilities

The research team analyzed Webb’s NIRCam (near infrared camera) data captured in July 2022. Early Release Science Project – Co-led by Imke de Pater. University of California, Berkeley and Thierry Fausset of the Paris Observatory—designed to take images of Jupiter at 10-hour intervals, or one Jupiter day, with four different filters, each capable of detecting changes in small features at different altitudes in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Jupiter's Atmosphere James Webb Space Telescope

Jupiter has a stratified atmosphere, and this example shows how Webb has the unique ability to collect information from higher layers of the atmosphere than ever before. Scientists were able to use the web to identify wind speeds in different layers of Jupiter’s atmosphere in order to isolate the high-speed jet. Observations of Jupiter were taken at 10-hour intervals, or one Jupiter day, with three different filters, as specified here, each able to detect changes in small features at different altitudes in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Ricardo Hueso (UPV), Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley), Thierry Fouchet (Observatory of Paris), Leigh Fletcher (University of Leicester), Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley), Andi James (STScI)

“Although there are many different ground-based telescopes, spacecraft such as NASA’s Juno and Cassiniand NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope Observing the changing weather patterns of the Jovian system, Webb has already provided new discoveries of Jupiter’s rings, satellites and its atmosphere,” noted de Pater.

Different atmospheric layers

Although Jupiter differs from Earth in many ways—Jupiter is a gas giant, while Earth is a rocky, temperate world—both planets have stratified atmospheres. Infrared, visible, radio, and ultraviolet-light wavelengths are observed by these other missions—detecting deeper, lower layers of the planet’s atmosphere. Great storms And ammonia ice clouds reside.

On the other hand, the appearance of the web in the near-infrared than before is sensitive to the high-altitude layers of the atmosphere about 15-30 miles (25-50 kilometers) above Jupiter’s cloud tops. In near-infrared imaging, high-altitude fogs typically appear fainter, with enhanced brightness in the equatorial region. With Webb, fine details are resolved into a bright, dim band.

Investigating storm systems on Jupiter

This illustration of lightning, convective towers (thunderheads), deep water clouds, and clears in Jupiter’s atmosphere is based on data collected by the Juno spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Gemini Observatory. Juno detects radio signals generated by lightning discharges. Because radio waves can pass through all of Jupiter’s cloud layers, Juno can detect lightning in deep clouds and lightning on the planet’s dayside. Hubble detects sunlight reflecting off clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Different wavelengths penetrate clouds to different depths, giving researchers the ability to determine the relative heights of cloud tops. Gemini maps the thickness of cold clouds that block thermal infrared light from warmer atmospheric layers below the clouds. Dense clouds appear darker on infrared maps, while clear ones appear brighter. A combination of observations can be used to map cloud structure in three dimensions and infer details of atmospheric circulation. Dense, high-altitude clouds form where moist air rises (upwelling and active convection). Cleanses form where dry air sinks (downstream). The clouds shown rise five times higher than similar convective towers in Earth’s relatively shallow atmosphere. The illustrated area covers a horizontal distance about one-third that of the continental United States. Credit: NASA, ESA, MH Wong (UC Berkeley), and A. James and MW Carruthers (STScI)

Characteristics of the new jet stream

The newly discovered jet stream travels at about 320 miles per hour (515 kilometers per hour). Category 5 hurricane Here on earth. It is located in Jupiter’s lower stratosphere, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) above the clouds (see map above).

By comparing the winds observed by Webb at higher altitudes with the winds seen in deeper layers from Hubble, the team can measure how fast the winds change with height and create wind shears.

Although Webb’s fine resolution and wavelength coverage allowed for the detection of small cloud features used to track the jet, Hubble’s complementary observations, taken a day after Webb’s observations, were crucial for determining the basic state of Jupiter’s equatorial atmosphere and tracking its development. Convective storms at Jupiter’s equator are not associated with the jet.

“We knew that the different wavelengths of Webb and Hubble could reveal the three-dimensional structure of storm clouds, but we were also able to use the timing of the data to see how quickly storms develop,” said Michael Wong, a team member at the university. Berkeley, California, led the related Hubble observations.

Future observations and implications

The researchers look forward to further observations of Jupiter along the web to determine whether the speed and height of the jet change over time.

“Jupiter has a complex but repeating pattern of winds and temperatures in its equatorial stratosphere, with cloud winds and fog measured at these wavelengths,” explained team member Lee Fletcher of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. “If the strength of this new jet is linked to this oscillating stratospheric pattern, we can expect the jet to vary significantly over the next 2 to 4 years – it will be very exciting to test this theory in the coming years.”

Even after observing Jupiter’s clouds and wind from several observatories, we still have a lot to know about Jupiter, and it surprises me that these jet-like features may be hidden from view until these new NIRCam images are taken in 2022. Fletcher.

The researchers’ results were recently published Natural Astronomy.

Reference: Ricardo Hueso, Agustin Sánchez-Laveca, Thierry Fawcett, Imke de Pater, Arrad Antonano, Lee N. Fletcher, Michael H. Wong, Pablo Rodriguez, “An Intense Narrow Equatorial Jet in Jupiter’s Lower Stratosphere Observed by JWSD” Lawrence A. Sromowski, Patrick M. Fry, Glenn S. Orton, Sandrin Gurlett, Patrick G.J. Irvine, Emmanuelle Lelouch, Jake Hargett, Catherine de Kleer, Henry Melin, Vincent Huey, Amy A. Simon, Stadia Luss-Cook and Cuneo M. Sayanaki, 19 October 2023, Natural Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-023-02099-2

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science laboratory. Webb solves the mysteries of our solar system, looks beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and explores the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. WEB is an international project led by NASA’s partners, ESA.European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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