The giant in opposition
The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this portrait of Jupiter as the planet made its closest approach to Earth in a year, 670 million km
HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE, 3 APRIL 2017
On 7 April, the gas giant Jupiter reached opposition, placing it opposite the Sun in the sky from Earth’s perspective and putting our planet in the middle of the two largest bodies in our Solar System. This made for some fantastic opportunities to observe and image Jupiter, as the planet appeared brighter in the sky than at any other time in the year.
Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 was used to take this incredible image of the planet, under the control of a team led by Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the US. They were able to capture features in the planet’s atmosphere as small as about 129km across, and also managed to create a crisp, clear view of its bands. Jupiter’s upper atmosphere contains clouds of ammonia. The brighter bands in it, called ‘zones’, are cooler and therefore positioned lower in the atmosphere, while the darker bands are called ‘belts’ and are hotter, and therefore higher.
Also visible is the Great Red Spot at the bottom left of the image, one of Jupiter’s many raging storms, and by far its most famous. This powerful anticyclone is thought to have lasted for more than 300 years and is larger than Earth, but has been known since the late 1880s to be shrinking in size.
This image is part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy programme, which sees Hubble dedicate time every year to observing the outer planets of our Solar System. By continuing to point our most powerful telescopes at Jupiter, and by supporting missions to explore its atmosphere like NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently doing, we get closer to solving some of the planet’s most intriguing mysteries.