The famed astrophysicist, Lord Martin Rees, suggests that gas giant Jupiter’s dense, terrifying atmosphere –with its constant storms with thunderheads reaching 40 miles from base to top — five times taller than those on Earth, and powerful lightning flashes up to three times more powerful than Earth’s largest “superbolts”– may be inhabited in the upper regions above by floating balloon-like creatures.
Hubble’s New Image
A new image of Jupiter above, our solar system’s largest planet –an immense spinning colorful sphere of methane and ammonia so large it could easily swallow all the other planets– taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope on Aug. 25, 2020, was captured when the planet and its hypothetical floating inhabitants was 406 million miles from Earth.
This image of Jupiter in ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light reports the Goddard Space Flight Center, “is giving researchers an entirely new view of the giant planet and offers insights into the altitude and distribution of the planet’s haze and particles. In this photo, the parts of Jupiter’s atmosphere that are at higher altitude, especially over the poles, look red from atmospheric particles absorbing ultraviolet light. Conversely, the blue-hued areas represent the ultraviolet light being reflected off the planet. A new storm at upper left, which erupted on Aug. 18, 2020, is grabbing the attention of scientists in this image. The “clumps” trailing the white plume appear to be absorbing ultraviolet light, similar to the center of the Great Red Spot, and Red Spot Jr. directly below it. This provides researchers with more evidence that this storm may last longer on Jupiter than most storms.”
Earlier Juno Images of the Polar Regions
The first-ever detailed look at Jupiter’s polar regions—captured during NASA’s Juno Mission first orbit in 2017—revealed chaotic swirls of storms, some measuring up to 1400 kilometers across and an equator harboring a broad plume of ammonia rising from within deep layers of the atmosphere.
The sheer immensity of Jupiter’s storms was captured with discovery of a massive storm system at Jupiter’s South Pole that occurred on Nov. 3, 2019, captured by Juno spacecraft showing image of cyclones at the south pole superimposed with an outline of the continental United States superimposed over the central cyclone. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM)
The Hubble weather report includes a remarkable new storm brewing, a cousin of the jack o’ lantern Great Red Spot region gearing up to change color, and a stretched-out storm traveling around the planet at 350 miles per hour (560 kilometers per hour). This single plume erupted on Aug. 18, 2020 – and ground-based observers have discovered two more that appeared later.
The Storm Cycles
While it’s common for storms to pop up in this region every six years or so, often with multiple storms at once, the timing of the Hubble observations is perfect for showing the structure in the wake of the disturbance, during the early stages of its evolution. Trailing behind the plume are small, rounded features with complex “red, white, and blue” colors in Hubble’s ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light image. Such discrete features typically dissipate on Jupiter, leaving behind only changes in cloud colors and wind speeds, but a similar storm on Saturn led to a long-lasting vortex. The differences in the aftermaths of Jupiter and Saturn storms may be related to the contrasting water abundances in their atmospheres, since water vapor may govern the massive amount of stored-up energy that can be released by these storm eruptions.
“Great Red Spot –A Living Enigma?”
Hubble shows that the Great Red Spot, rolling counterclockwise in the planet’s southern hemisphere, is plowing into the clouds ahead of it, forming a cascade of white and beige ribbons. The Great Red Spot is currently an exceptionally rich red color, with its core and outermost band appearing deeper red. NASA Researchers say the phenomenon now measures about 9,800 miles across, big enough to swallow Earth. The super-storm is still shrinking as noted in telescopic observations dating back to 1930, but the reason for its dwindling size is a complete mystery.
Paul Davies, theoretical physicist at Arizona State University and director of the Beyond Center, suggests in The Demon in the Machine, that the Great Red Spot is an example of a “dissipative structure” –a possible way station on the road to life–first recognized in the 1970’s by the chemist Ilya Prigogine, who defined life as operating far from equilibrium with its environment and supporting a continued throughput of matter and energy.
Another feature researchers are noticing has changed is Oval BA, nicknamed by astronomers as Red Spot Jr., which appears just below the Great Red Spot in this image. For the past few years, Red Spot Jr. has been fading in color to its original shade of white after appearing red in 2006. However, now the core of this storm appears to be darkening slightly. This could hint that Red Spot Jr. is on its way to turning to a color more similar to its cousin once again.
Hubble’s image shows that Jupiter is clearing out its higher altitude white clouds, especially along the planet’s equator, where an orangish hydrocarbon smog wraps around it. The legendary, icy moon Europa, thought to hold potential ingredients for life, is visible to the left of the gas giant.
The Hubble image is part of yearly maps of the entire planet taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy program, or OPAL. The program provides annual Hubble global views of the outer planets to look for changes in their storms, winds, and clouds.
The Daily Galaxy, Jake Burba, via NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Image credit top of page: NASA, ESA, STScI, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), M.H. Wong (University of California,