Tagged: Jupiter

Astronomers discovery trio of gas giant planets orbiting distant stars

SpaceX’s launch of NASA’s exoplanet-hunting TESS satellite may have been delayed, but that’s not stopping scientists from using the hardware they already have to make new, otherworldly discoveries. The latest in exoplanet news comes from Japan, where a team of astronomers has identified a trio of gas giant planets orbiting two different stars many light years from Earth. The scientists, which know very little about the planets aside from the fact that they exist, published their findings in a new research paper.

The planets were found near a pair of stars named 24 Booties and Gamma Librae. 24 Booties hosts a single gas giant, while Gamma Librae hosts a pair of the large planets. They were discovered using radial velocity measurements taken by the Okayama Astrophysical Observatory in Japan.

The stars that are being orbited by the gas giants are similar in mass to our Sun, but much different in terms of size. 24 Booties is roughly the same mass as our own star, but 11 times larger, while Gamma Librae is around 1.5 times the mass of the Sun, but also roughly 11 times larger. They are considered “evolved stars,” and part of what makes this discovery special is that the planet orbiting 24 Booties is has the shortest orbital period of any planet discovered around a star of its size.

The planets themselves are still shrouded in mystery, but we do have a pretty good idea as to their size. The planet orbiting 24 Booties is thought to be around 0.91 the mass of Jupiter, while the two planets around Gamma Librae are estimated to be larger, weighing in at 1.02 and 4.58 Jupiter masses. Compared to Earth, these planets are incredibly large, which is one of the reasons why astronomers were able to detect them.

These three planets are certainly interesting for researchers, but they aren’t the first gas giant exoplanets to be discovered. Astronomers have spotted “hot Jupiter” planets in the past, which orbit extremely close to their star and are essentially massive spheres of super-heated gas. Gas giants in general are still only vaguely understood, and scientists don’t know exactly what lies in their centers. Solid cores are thought to be inevitable due to the pressure present deep within the clouds, but we don’t yet have the technology to peer inside of our closest giant, Jupiter.

NASA’s 3D flyover of Jupiter’s North Pole is absolutely terrifying

Back in early March, NASA released some really stunning images that the Juno probe captured of Jupiter’s poles. The pictures were created using the spacecraft’s infrared sensor, which allowed it to see the underlying structure of the massive cyclones that cover the planet. These huge towers of wind were scary enough in the still images, but now NASA has taken the data and created a 3D “flyover” video of the turbulent atmosphere, and it’s even more frightening.

NASA has been closely studying the weather patterns on Jupiter in an attempt to learn more about what powers its massive storms. Late last year, the Juno spacecraft provided some incredible insight into the workings of the Great Red Spot, revealing that it stretches hundreds of miles into the planet, and these new images are a continuation of that research.


“In this animation the viewer is taken low over Jupiter’s north pole to illustrate the 3-D aspects of the region’s central cyclone and the eight cyclones that encircle it.” NASA says of the video. “The movie utilizes imagery derived from data collected by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA’s Juno mission during its fourth pass over the massive planet. Infrared cameras are used to sense the temperature of Jupiter’s atmosphere and provide insight into how the powerful cyclones at Jupiter’s poles work.”

The flyover does a good job at revealing the scale of the storms, and the massive valleys in the clouds glow brightly thanks to the heat mapping that Juno has provided. “In the animation, the yellow areas are warmer (or deeper into Jupiter’s atmosphere) and the dark areas are colder (or higher up in Jupiter’s atmosphere). In this picture the highest “brightness temperature” is around 260K (about -13°C) and the lowest around 190K (about -83°C).”

Even as large as these storms systems are, it’s important to remember that the actual “weather layer” of Jupiter accounts for just one percent of the entire planet’s mass, so what we see from space is hiding an incredible amount of material tucked away below. Juno’s tools can only cut away so much of the cloud cover, but what it has managed to capture is obviously pretty awesome.

NASA’s Juno snapped another photo of Jupiter that looks like a watercolor painting

Out of all the different pieces of NASA hardware floating around our Solar System, the Juno spacecraft probably has the best gig in terms of pure eye candy. The orbiter regularly snaps almost-too-good-to-be-real photos of the gas giant and its swirling cloud tops and sends them back to eager scientists and skywatchers back on Earth, and its latest batch of high-flying photos is just as good as we’ve come to expect from the reliable probe.

NASA, which regularly shows off some of Juno’s best work, took the time to highlight a particularly cool-looking photo of Jupiter’s iconic cloud patterns that was snapped back on April 1st. As with many images of the planet that we’ve seen in the past, the photo almost looks like an antique watercolor painting, and it’s hard not to lose yourself in the surreal sight.

“See intricate cloud patterns in the northern hemisphere of Jupiter in this new view taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft,” NASA says of the image. “The color-enhanced image was taken on April 1 at 2:32 a.m. PST (5:32 a.m. EST), as Juno performed its twelfth close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 7,659 miles (12,326 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a northern latitude of 50.2 degrees.”

NASA makes it incredibly easy for the general public to see what the Juno spacecraft is observing via its JunoCam web portal. Here, raw images are uploaded without any additional processing, and citizen scientists have the opportunity to enhance them by emphasizing the colors and contrast. This particular photo was processed by Kevin M. Gill. You can view the photo at its full resolution here.

The Juno spacecraft is currently nearing the conclusions of its original mission timeline, having over six years and eight months of its planned seven-year mission. However, as with many of NASA’s spacecraft, the probe is likely to get a new lease on life with extended mission goals that will allow it to deliver awesome photos like this one for a while longer.

Something strange is happening to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is perhaps the most iconic feature of any planet in our Solar System. It’s instantly recognizable, and the massive cyclone has been swirling for so long that we’ve taken for granted that it’ll always be there. Recent observations have shown that, unfortunately, that’s not the case. The storm is dying — the latest data from the Juno spacecraft suggests it might actually be gone within our lifetimes — and a new research paper by scientists at NASA suggests that it’s actually change in both shape and color as it enters its twilight years.

Juno’s latest images have revealed some surprising changes to the storm, which is now smaller in diameter than has ever before been observed. Its swirling winds are reaching higher into the planet’s atmosphere than before, stretching the storm taller as they swirl upward. At the same time, its iconic crimson hue is becoming more orange, likely as a result of the highest gasses being exposed to ultraviolet radiation.

The Great Red Spot is still great. It can still swallow the entire Earth whole, which is a pretty impressive feat for any weather feature, but it’s definitely less impressive than it once was. As NASA notes, a century and a half ago it was so wide that you could fit four Earths inside of its footprint, so it’s clearly losing a lot of steam. The study was published in The Astronomical Journal.

“Its north–south color asymmetry has decreased, and the dark core has become smaller,” the researchers write. “Internal velocities have increased on its east and west edges, and decreased on the north and south, resulting in decreased relative vorticity and circulation. The GRS’s color changes from 2014 to 2017 may be explained by changes in stretching vorticity or divergence acting to balance the decrease in relative vorticity.”

Observations of Jupiter stretching as far back as the 1660s pointed to the presence of a completely different storm that may have preceded the Great Red Spot. That storm, which exists only in astronomy records from the time, is thought to have been the remains of a dying storm that completely vanished long before modern imaging would have allowed it to be captured on film. If the Great Red Spot does indeed sputter out within the next few decades, another great cyclone could always form in its wake. Time will tell.

NASA’s Juno probe mapped Jupiter’s incredible winds and the images are just nuts

Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System and NASA’s Juno probe orbiting the gas giant has delivered some stunning images time and time again. NASA scientists used some of the probe’s most recent infrared snapshots to map the planet’s intense winds, and the resulting images are downright awesome.

These pictures, which were taken on Jupiter’s north and south poles, reveal the massive wind towers that dominate not only its upper atmosphere but also stretch deep into the planet. As NASA explains, the jet streams that create the eye-catching patterns originate far below what we are able to see from its cloud tops, and the cyclones are unlike anything observed before in the Solar System, including here on Earth.

The weather systems that generate the huge storms and swirling torrents goes deeper than scientists had originally thought. The cyclones we see above stretch as deep as 1,900 miles into the planet. Obviously, this dwarfs anything we’d ever see here on Earth, and puts storm systems on every other planet in our Solar System to shame. These new findings are being published in a series in the journal Nature.

The “weather layer” of jupiter accounts for roughly one percent of the planet’s total mass. That might not sound like much, but it’s actually a greater ratio than that of Earth. “Earth’s atmosphere is less than one millionth of the total mass of Earth,” Yohai Kaspi, lead author of the research, explains. “The fact that Jupiter has such a massive region rotating in separate east-west bands is definitely a surprise.”

These new discoveries were made possible thanks to Juno’s high-tech equipment. Its infrared imaging hardware cuts through the cloud tops and captures the structure below, which has never been possible before. And as cool as this all is, the spacecraft is just getting started.

“These astonishing science results are yet another example of Jupiter’s curve balls, and a testimony to the value of exploring the unknown from a new perspective with next-generation instruments,” Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno, notes. “Juno is only about one third the way through its primary mission, and already we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter.”