Strange and unexpected structures discovered floating above Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Jupiter’s atmosphere is a fascinating and ever-changing environment. You can see a variety of colors, storms, massive clouds, and more all over the planet. However, the upper atmosphere has always been considered calm. Sure, that’s where the aurora borealis occurs, but beyond that, it was thought that nothing strange was going on. Now, a group of astronomers has turned that belief upside down.

The upper atmosphere is difficult to study. At the poles, particles of the volcanic moon Io follow magnetic field lines to create auroras at multiple wavelengths. As for the rest of the planet, the energy that forms it is sunlight. Jupiter receives only about 4% of the sunlight that Earth receives. That’s why astronomers assumed it would be very uniform.

“We thought this area, perhaps naively, would be really boring,” team leader Henrik Melin from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom said in a report published by the American “Science Alert” website. statement. “It’s actually as interesting as the northern lights, if not more so. Jupiter never ceases to surprise.”

Observations by the James Webb Space Telescope have revealed complex structures above the famous Great Red Spot, a storm wider than Earth. They found dark arcs and bright spots that can be seen in infrared. The source of this difference is not sunlight, but rather the deep, messy layers of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

“One way you can change this structure is with gravity waves, which are like waves crashing on a beach, creating ripples in the sand,” Melin explained. “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.”

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Such gravitational waves also exist on Earth, but if the influencing mechanism is the same, they are much weaker.

The discovery had been long anticipated. The observations were part of JWST’s Early Science Investigations (ERS) program, where astronomers had been curious about Jupiter’s upper atmosphere for some time.

“This ERS proposal was written in 2017,” said team member Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley. “One of our goals was to investigate why the Great Red Spot is so hot, as revealed by recent observations by NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility. However, our new data show completely different results.”

The team hopes to follow up with observations using the James Webb Space Telescope to better understand this part of Jupiter’s atmosphere. This will also help with observations planned for the European Space Agency’s JUICE mission, which will explore the planet and its three icy moons.

These results are published in Natural astronomy.

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