James Webb Telescope discovers strange shapes above Jupiter's Great Red Spot


A team of astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has found never-before-seen structures and activities in Jupiter's upper atmosphere. The region observed in the study using the Webb telescope is located just above the Great Red Spot. NASA, The Great Red Spot is the solar system's largest storm, twice as large as Earth, and is thought to have persisted for at least 300 years.

Jupiter's upper atmosphere is the interface between the planet's magnetic field and the underlying atmosphere. It is within Jupiter's upper atmosphere that its aurorae can be observed. However, structures in the upper atmosphere toward the planet's equator are affected by sunlight, and are therefore harder to observe.

In July 2022, Jupiter's Great Red Spot was observed by Webb's Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) using the instrument's Integral Field Unit capabilities. The team was surprised to find that the upper atmosphere contains many complex structures, including dark arcs and bright spots, across the entire field of view.

“We thought this region, perhaps naively, would be boring. It's just as interesting as the North Pole lights, if not more so. Jupiter never ceases to surprise,” Henrik Melin, a planetary scientist at the University of Leicester, said in a statement.

See the picture here:

Although the light emitted from this region is driven by sunlight, the team suggested that there must be some other mechanism that changes the shape and structure of the upper atmosphere.

“One way you can change this structure is through gravity waves – similar to waves hitting a beach, creating ripples in the sand. These waves are generated deep in the turbulent lower atmosphere around the Great Red Spot, and they can travel at high altitudes, changing the structure and emissions of the upper atmosphere,” Mr Melin said.

The team further explained that these atmospheric waves can sometimes be seen on Earth as well, however, they are much weaker than the waves observed by Webb on Jupiter.

The scientists hope to be able to investigate these patterns in more detail and understand how Jupiter's upper atmosphere changes over time. They also hope that these findings will prove useful for the upcoming ESA Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer mission, where a spacecraft called JUICE will study Jupiter and its moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.

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