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

Sky at Night Magazine - - EYE ON THE SKY -


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.

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