James Webb observes mysterious structures above Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Reveal what was previously invisible.

Bored to the floors

The James Webb Space Telescope has been used to image the farthest reaches of the universe. But in a change of pace, astronomers are harnessing its immense capabilities on a target closer to home: the mighty planet Jupiter — and in doing so, they’ve discovered mysterious features and structures on the gas giant that have never been seen before, let alone with the James Webb telescope’s incredible resolution.

As detailed in A Stady Published in the magazine Natural astronomy Scientists have spotted a region of atmosphere hovering over Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, a storm so massive it could swallow Earth and the largest in the solar system.

Despite its enormous dimensions, this part of the atmosphere had been ignored by astronomers, who had previously dismissed it as uninteresting. Now, they are happy to admit that they were completely wrong.

“We thought, perhaps naively, that this area would be really boring,” said Henrik Melin, lead author of the study from the University of Leicester. statement “It’s actually as interesting as the northern lights, if not more interesting. Jupiter never ceases to amaze us,” he added.

Glow up

The lights Mellen points to illuminate Jupiter’s north and south poles and are easily visible. But there’s a subtler glow lurking in the upper atmosphere that has proven difficult for ground-based telescopes to spot. It may not be as bright, but its elusiveness is its own charm.

Fortunately, James Webb is uniquely suited to deal with this problem. It orbits in clear space around the Sun, and is equipped with state-of-the-art infrared sensors, such as the Near Infrared Spectrometer (NIRSPEC), that can detect secrets emitted in even the weakest light sources.

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For example, researchers found all sorts of oddities lurking in observations made in July 2022, including one published by the European Space Agency. described like Complex structures“Dark arcs” and “bright spots”.

Sandwich area

Since Jupiter’s upper atmosphere forms the boundary between Jupiter’s lower atmosphere and its strong magnetic field, it hosts amazing energy interactions. The northern and southern lights are believed to be caused by the ejection of volcanic material on its moon Io.

But researchers suspect that something else entirely is causing the glow above the Great Red Spot: strong gravitational interactions rarely seen on Earth.

“One way you can change this structure is with gravity waves, similar to waves crashing on a beach, creating ripples in the sand,” Henriques said. “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.”

Astronomers hope that, through continuous monitoring, they can reveal how these waves travel through Jupiter’s atmosphere.

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