Greenbelt, MD – On June 27th, 2019, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured a new image of Jupiter that reveals the giant planet’s trademark Great Red Spot, and a more intense color palette in the clouds swirling in Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere than seen in previous years. The colors, and their changes, provide important clues to ongoing processes in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
The bands are created by differences in the thickness and height of the ammonia ice clouds. The colorful bands, which flow in opposite directions at various latitudes, result from different atmospheric pressures. Lighter bands rise higher and have thicker clouds than the darker bands.
Among the most striking features in the image are the rich colors of the clouds moving toward the Great Red Spot, a storm rolling counterclockwise between two bands of clouds.
These two cloud bands, above and below the Great Red Spot, are moving in opposite directions. The red band above and to the right (northeast) of the Great Red Spot contains clouds moving westward and around the north of the giant tempest. The white clouds to the left (southwest) of the storm are moving eastward to the south of the spot.
All of Jupiter’s colorful cloud bands in this image are confined to the north and south by jet streams that remain constant, even when the bands change color. The bands are all separated by winds that can reach speeds of up to 400 miles (644 kilometers) per hour.
On the opposite side of the planet, the band of deep red color northeast of the Great Red Spot and the bright white band to the southeast of it become much fainter. The swirling filaments seen around the outer edge of the red super storm are high-altitude clouds that are being pulled in and around it.
The Great Red Spot is a towering structure shaped like a wedding cake, whose upper haze layer extends more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) higher than clouds in other areas. The gigantic structure, with a diameter slightly larger than Earth’s, is a high-pressure wind system called an anticyclone that has been slowly downsizing since the 1800s. The reason for this change in size is still unknown.
Another interesting detail is the color of the wide band at the equator. The bright orange color may be a sign that deeper clouds are starting to clear out, emphasizing red particles in the overlying haze.
The new image was taken in visible light as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy program, or OPAL. The program provides yearly Hubble global views of the outer planets to look for changes in their storms, winds and clouds.
Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 observed Jupiter when the planet was 400 million miles from Earth, when Jupiter was near “opposition” or almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky.