July 14, 2024

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The discovery of strange and unexpected structures floating above Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

The discovery of strange and unexpected structures floating above Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Jupiter’s atmosphere is a fascinating, ever-changing environment. Clusters of different colors, storms, massive clouds, and more can be seen all over the planet. However, the upper atmosphere has always been considered calm. Surely this was where the aurora borealis occurred, but beyond that, he thought there wasn’t anything strange going on. Now, a group of astronomers has turned that belief on its head.

The upper atmosphere is difficult to study. At the poles, particles of the volcanic moon Io follow magnetic field lines to create auroras at multiple wavelengths. As for the rest of the planet, the energy that forms it is sunlight. Jupiter receives only about 4% of the sunlight that Earth receives. That’s why astronomers assumed it would be very uniform.

“We thought, perhaps naively, that this area would be really boring,” said team leader Henrik Melin, from the University of Leicester in the UK. statement. “It’s actually as interesting as the northern lights, if not more so. Jupiter never ceases to surprise.”

Observations by the James Webb Space Telescope have revealed complex structures above the famous Great Red Spot, a storm larger than Earth. They found dark arcs and bright spots visible in infrared light. The source of these variations is not sunlight, but the chaotic deep layers of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

“One way you can change this structure is with gravity waves, which are like waves crashing on a beach, creating ripples in the sand,” Melin explained. “These waves are generated deep in the turbulent lower atmosphere, around the Great Red Spot, and can travel upward, changing the structure and emissions of the upper atmosphere.”

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These gravitational waves also exist on Earth, but if the mechanism is the same, they are much weaker.

The discovery had been expected for a long time. These observations were part of JWST’s Early Science Research (ERS) program where astronomers have been curious about Jupiter’s upper atmosphere for a while.

“This ERS proposal was written in 2017,” said team member Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley. “One of our goals was to investigate the cause of the high temperature above the Great Red Spot, as revealed by recent observations by NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility. However, our new data showed very different results.

The team hopes to follow up observations with the James Webb Space Telescope to better understand this part of the Jovian atmosphere. It will also help with planned observations for the European Space Agency’s JUICE mission, which will explore the planet and its three icy moons.

These results are published in Nature astronomy.