In 2009, astronauts installed Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, which is capable of higher-resolution imaging and a broader field of view than Hubble’s previous cameras. NASA recently released a map of Jupiter in 4K ultra high definition (UHD), which is the sharpest you can get next to 8K UHD. Check it out below:
And what this camera spotted recently as scientists turned its sights on the beautiful gas giant was a feature that had only been seen once before in 1979 by the Voyager 2 spacecraft – a mysterious wave in a layer of the atmosphere called Jupiter’s North Equatorial Belt:
The team recently published their results in The Astrophysical Journal.
“Until now, we thought the wave seen by Voyager 2 might have been a fluke,” said Glenn Orton who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is a coauthor on the paper, said in a NASA statement. “As it turns out, it’s just rare!”
Together with planetary scientists Amy Simon and Michael Wong, Orton is working on a project they call the “Hubble 2020: Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program.”
The project aims to map, in unprecedented detail, the outer planets of our solar system. That way, years down the road scientists can use these maps to assess how the outer planets have changed over time.
Already, their map of Jupiter is proving fascinating. The scientists don’t know exactly what is causing this wave, but they suspect that the wave first forms far beneath Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and rise afterward, where it then becomes visible from space.
The wave is in a region that is rich with powerful cyclones. In fact, the wave resembles something on Earth that forms in the atmosphere when cyclones are beginning to take shape. This similarity could help the scientists better understand the origin of these waves.
In addition to this mysterious wave, the scientists also noticed a never-before-seen feature in Jupiter’s giant storm famously dubbed the Great Red Spot. The feature spans almost the entire width of the spot and is constantly getting distorted in shape by the 330 mph winds of the storm.
You can see the movement of Jupiter’s clouds below. Zooming in on the Great Red Spot at blue (left) and red (right) wavelengths of light reveals this mysterious structure.
“Every time we look at Jupiter, we get tantalizing hints that something really exciting is going on,” Simon, who is lead author of the paper, said in the NASA statement. “This time is no exception.”