Breakthrough new images of Jupiter have pieced together “lucky images” of the mysterious planet, giving astronomers an unprecedented insight into the violent storms in the gas giant’s clouds. The Geminid North Telescope on the island of MaunaKea, Hawaii, can bypass the effects of the Earth’s atmosphere and give us a clear view of Jupiter as if it were in orbit around it.
Although it may be the largest planet in the solar system, it is not easy to get a clear picture of Jupiter. The telescope on Earth has high resolution, and the Gemini North Telescope’s Near Infrared Imager (NIRI) can actually observe the planet’s storms, but the instability of the Earth’s own atmosphere can obscure the final results. Now the team of the Gemini North Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope have used so-called “lucky imaging” to get the best results. Jupiter was filmed nine times individually, each consisting of 38 exposures. The scientists sifted the results, selected the sharpest 10% of the images, and then combined them into a single final image.
This requires careful positioning of the composite image so that it is arranged correctly, as Jupiter rotates when it is photographed. Eventually astronomers produced the highest-resolution infrared image of Jupiter ever taken from the ground. The researchers hope to explore how the Juno probe’s observations match the science behind the patterns of huge cyclones, atmospheric waves and winds on the distant planet. Juno’s position in orbit, for example, captures the radio signals generated by flashing lightning, and the images captured by Gemini and Hubble at multiple wavelengths can be compared at these times and places.
By combining this information, the team found that lightning strikes, as well as storm systems that produce lightning strikes, formed large convective cells in and around deep clouds. The most aggressive lightning was observed from a vortex known as a “silk cyclone” that could be viewed from the vortex by images of Hubble and Gemini. It turned out to be a twisted collection of tall convective clouds. Deep gaps reveal water clouds far below, and three-dimensional models of cyclones can be built through various wavelength observations.
In the process, researchers may have solved one of Jupiter’s biggest problems, the Great Red Spot. Great red spots have been observed in the past, but visible light observations cannot distinguish between darker cloud matter and the thinner clouds inside Jupiter’s warm interior, so their nature remains a mystery. Hubble could n’go of what was happening in visible light, but infrared photos of Gemini showed a bright arc illuminating the entire area at the Great Red Spot. This means that there are gaps in the clouds there, allowing the heat to flow through the interior.