US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Researchers using the technique known as the “happy image” using the Gemini North telescope in the Hawaiian Mauna Kea Islands obtained the highest resolution images of Jupiter ever received from the earth. These images are part of a multi-year joint observational program with the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Juno mission.
Images from Gemini, combined with observations from Hubble and Juno, show that lightning strikes and some of the largest storms that create them form inside and around large convective cells above deep clouds of water ice and liquid. New observations also confirm that the dark spots in the famous Great Red Spot are actually gaps in the cloud cover, and are not associated with a change in the color of the clouds.
Thanks to three years of studying images using the Gemini international observatory and the NSF NOIRLab program, we penetrated deep into the cloudy peaks of Jupiter. Gemini’s ultra-clear infrared images complement Hubble’s optical and ultraviolet observations and radio observations on the Juno spacecraft, revealing new secrets about the giant planet.
“The Gemini data was critical because it allowed us to regularly explore the clouds of Jupiter,” said Michael Wong of the University of California at Berkeley. “We used a very powerful technique called the happy shot,” Wong adds. With successful shooting, a large number of images with a very short exposure are obtained and only the sharpest images are used when the Earth’s atmosphere is briefly stable. The result in this case is some of the clearest infrared images of Jupiter ever received from the earth. According to Wong, “these images compete even with images from space.”
The Gemini North Infrared Image Scanner (NIRI) allows astronomers to peer into the strong storms of Jupiter, since longer wavelength infrared light can pass through a thin haze, but is obscured by denser clouds high in the atmosphere of Jupiter. This creates an effect similar to the “lantern” in the images, where the warm deep layers of the atmosphere of Jupiter glow through the cracks in the dense cloud cover of the planet.
Detailed multiwave images of Jupiter made by Gemini and Hubble over the past three years have proved to be extremely important for consolidation with observations of the Juno orbital satellite, which in turn is extremely important for understanding the laws of wind flows on Jupiter, its atmospheric waves and cyclones. Two telescopes, together with Juno, can observe the atmosphere of Jupiter – its flows of wind, gas, heat and weather events, providing an understanding of its nature.
Mapping Giant Lightning Thunderstorms
On each of her close passages above the clouds of Jupiter, Juno discovered radio signals created by powerful flashes of lightning, called spherics (short for atmospherics) and whistles (called so because of the whistle-like tone that they cause on radio receivers). When possible, Gemini and Hubble focused on Jupiter and received high-resolution, wide-area maps of the giant planet.
Juno’s tools could determine the latitude and longitude coordinates of clusters of spherical and whistling signals. With images of Gemini and Hubble at different wavelengths, researchers can now explore the structure of clouds in these places. By combining these three streams of information, the research team found that lightning strikes and some of the largest storm systems that create them form inside and around large convection cells above deep clouds of water ice and liquid.
“Scientists track lightnings because they are a marker of convection, a turbulent mixing process that transfers Jupiter’s internal heat to visible upper clouds,” Wong explained. The highest concentration of lightning seen by Juno was caused by a whirlwind called a “filamentous cyclone.” Images from Gemini and Hubble show details in the cyclone that it is a winding collection of high convective clouds with deep gaps that reveal glimpses of water clouds deep below.
“Studies of lightning sources will help us understand how convection on Jupiter differs from or similar to convection in the Earth’s atmosphere,” Wong commented.
Luminous traits in the Great Red Spot
Examining the gas giant in search of gaps in the cloud cover, Gemini noticed a distinctive glow in the Great Red Spot, indicating a clear view down, into the deeper, warmer layers of the atmosphere.
“Similar features have been seen in the Great Red Spot before,” team member Glenn Orton of JPL said, but observation in visible light could not distinguish the darker material of the clouds and the thinner cloud cover over the warm interior of Jupiter, so their nature remained a mystery ” .
Now with the data from Gemini, this riddle is solved. Where images from Hubble show a dark semicircle in the Great Red Spot, images taken by Gemini using infrared light show a bright arc illuminating the region. This infrared glow caused by the inner heat of Jupiter would be blocked by thicker clouds, but it can pass through the foggy atmosphere of Jupiter without interference.
Looking at the bright infrared hot spots, Gemini confirms that they are spaces in the clouds. Although earlier observations saw dark objects in the Great Red Spot, the winds quickly spinning in it obscured the true nature of these spots until simultaneous observations of Hubble and Gemini were made.
“NIRI at Gemini North is the most effective way for researchers from the United States and Gemini’s international partnership to get detailed Jupiter maps at this wavelength,” Wong explained. Gemini reached 500 km resolution on Jupiter. “With this resolution, the telescope could see two headlights of a 1700 km car,” said Andrew Stevens, an astronomer at Gemini who was observing.
“These coordinated observations prove once again that innovative astronomy was made possible by combining the capabilities of the Gemini telescopes with terrestrial and space objects,” said Martin Still, director of the National Science Foundation’s astronomy program. “The Gemini International Partnership provides open access to a powerful combination of telescopes, flexible planning, and a wide selection of interchangeable tools.”
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