spaceSpace and Physics

Infrared Imaging Shows Jupiter's Gas Streaks In A New Light


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Jupiter, as seen in infrared. ESO

In what amounts to the closest you’ll ever come to seeing a risqué image of Jupiter, researchers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have produced a brand new infrared image of the gas giant, which beautifully depicts its swirling clouds in an entirely different light.

Juno, the solar-powered spacecraft that’s been edging closer to Jupiter since 2011, is due to enter its orbit next week and send what is sure to be a smorgasbord of incredible imagery and data back to Earth. In the meantime, though – as evidenced by this dramatic image of the famous horizontal bands streaking across the Jovian atmosphere – astronomers are keen to get detailed images of these swirling clouds, and this one was obtained by ESO’s ground-based Very Large Telescope (VLT).content-1467118459-eso-2.jpg


This image is just one of many that will be used to create a true 3D atmospheric atlas of Jupiter – a world first. In fact, by the time Juno arrives in July of this year, these current images will likely look very different from the ones that Juno will capture. This will allow astronomers to compare and contrast the two data sets, which will reveal how quickly Jupiter’s atmosphere changes over time.

“These maps will help set the scene for what Juno will witness in the coming months,” lead researcher Leigh Fletcher, an expert at the University of Leicester in the remote sensing of giant planet systems, said in a statement. “Observations at different wavelengths across the infrared spectrum allow us to piece together a three-dimensional picture of how energy and material are transported upwards through the atmosphere.”

This image is actually a composite of a far larger number of individual photographs taken by the VLT. In a technique known as “lucky imaging,” thousands of separate frames were taken at short exposures, and those that were least affected by the turbulence of our own atmosphere were picked and stitched together.

Wonderfully, the ESO team note in their press release that “the Juno spacecraft was named after the mythological wife of the god Jupiter,” adding that, “just like his planetary counterpart, Jupiter veiled himself in clouds to hide his mischief, and only Juno was able to peer through them to see his true nature.”


You’ve got to love a little bit of bonus etymology.

Image in text: Comparison of VLT's infrared (VISIR) imaging and visible light imaging of Jupiter's atmosphere. ESO


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