The Webb Telescope detects an unprecedented jet stream in Jupiter’s atmosphere

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The James Webb Space Telescope’s near-infrared camera captured an image of Jupiter in infrared light. The bright white spots and lines are likely high-altitude storm cloud tops. The aurora borealis, shown in red, can be seen around the poles.

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Jupiter was one of the first targets observed by the James Webb Space Telescope when it initially turned its infrared gaze toward the universe in July 2022. Amazing images that exceeded astronomers’ expectationsThe space observatory has now revealed a never-before-seen feature of the gas giant’s atmosphere.

The researchers used the Webb near-infrared camera, or NIRCam, to take the images A series of images of Jupiter 10 hours apart, with four different filters applied to detect changes in the planet’s atmosphere. Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, and the unprecedented capabilities of the Webb telescope have been used over the past year to observe many recently observed celestial features, such as Huge groups of young stars And unexpected Pairs of planet-like bodies.

Astronomers have detected a high-speed jet stream in Jupiter’s lower stratosphere, an atmosphere located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) above the clouds. The jet stream, which lies above the planet’s equator, is more than 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) wide and moves at 320 miles per hour (515 kilometers per hour), or twice the rate seen with the sustained winds of a Category 5 hurricane on Earth. .

The study results, made possible by Webb’s sensitive capabilities, shed light on the dynamic interactions within Jupiter’s stormy atmosphere.

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“This is something that completely surprised us,” said Ricardo Hueso, lead author of the study published October 19 in the journal. Nature astronomy, in the current situation. Hueso is a lecturer in physics at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain.

“What we always saw as a fuzzy haze in Jupiter’s atmosphere now appears as clear features that we can track along with the planet’s rapid rotation,” he said.

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and is made up of gases, so it couldn’t be more different from Earth. But like our planet, Jupiter has a layered atmosphere. These turbulent layers have been observed by previous missions and telescopes trying to better understand how different parts of the atmosphere interact with each other. The layers also contain weather patterns, including century-long storms such as Jupiter’s Great Red Spot And clouds made of icy ammonia.

While other missions have penetrated deeper into Jupiter’s swirling clouds using different wavelengths of light to look beneath them, Webb is in a unique position to study layers at higher altitudes, about 15 to 30 miles (25 to 50 kilometers) above the cloud tops. Spy previously unclear details.

“Although many ground-based telescopes, spacecraft such as NASA’s Juno and Cassini, and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have observed the changing weather patterns of the Jovian system, Webb has already provided new findings about Jupiter’s rings, satellites, and atmosphere,” said the study’s co-author. for him”. Imke De Pater, professor emeritus of astronomy and Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.

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The researchers compared the winds detected by Webb at high altitudes with those in the lower layers captured by Hubble and tracked changes in wind speed. Both space observatories were essential to detecting the jet stream, with Webb observing small cloud features and Hubble providing a look at the tropical atmosphere, including storms unrelated to jets. The two telescopes provided a broader look at Jupiter’s complex atmosphere and the processes taking place within the layers.

“We knew that the different wavelengths of Webb and Hubble would reveal the 3D structure of storm clouds, but we were also able to use the timing of the data to see how quickly storms develop,” said study co-author Michael Wong, a planetary scientist at the Space Research Center. University of California, Berkeley, which led the relevant Hubble observations, said in a statement.

Future observations of Jupiter using the Webb telescope may reveal more insights into the jet stream, such as whether its speed and altitude are changing over time, among other surprises.

“It’s amazing to me that after years of tracking Jupiter’s clouds and winds from so many observatories, we still have so much more to learn about Jupiter,” he said, “and features like this one could remain hidden from view until these new NIRCam images are taken in 2022″. Study co-author Lee Fletcher, professor of planetary sciences at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

“Jupiter has a complex but repetitive pattern of winds and temperatures in the equatorial stratosphere, high above the winds in clouds and fog measured at these wavelengths. If the strength of this new jet is related to this oscillating stratospheric pattern, we might expect the jet to change dramatically over the course of the two years.” For the next four years – it will be really interesting to test this theory in the coming years.

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