Jumping Jupiter! Hubble Space Telescope gives giant planet its super-close-up

Close-Approaching Jupiter Dazzles in New Hubble
Hubble's new Jupiter close-up portrait thrills with swirls
Author

08 April, 2017

When this happens, every 13 months or so, it is the ideal time to aim the Hubble Space Telescope at the giant planet, to capture the greatest amount of details from its cloud bands and swirling storms.

While Jupiter will be closest to Earth on Friday evening, we will be treated to similar views of the planet over the next few weeks. "So if you have binoculars and a small telescope, you might even see the small moons of Jupiter".

Shaped by powerful storms and vortices, the planet's roiling atmosphere is divided into several distinct and colourful bands parallel to the equator. On April 6, NASA officials stated that these colorful, wonderful bands which display alternative wind motions are determined by the differences which occur in the height and thickness of the ammonia ice clouds. "This means that the sun, Earth and Jupiter line up, with Earth sitting between the sun and the gas giant", NASA explained.

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The giant planet is now at "opposition", positioned directly opposite the sun from the Earth. With even a basic telescope, you should be able to make out Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a vast storm that's roughly twice the size of Earth. NASA says the spot's winds can peak at 400 miles per hour (644 kph). This Great Red Spot referred to as anticyclone is a storm larger than the planet Earth that exists for at least 150 years.

Thaller added that the Hubble telescope is also taking advantage of Jupiter's relatively close proximity and sending back some dramatic new images. The Great Red Spot is mysteriously shrinking, and Hubble is one of the tools scientists use to monitor these changes. Opposition also marks the point in a planet's orbit when it's closest to Earth; indeed, Jupiter is now just 415 million miles (670 million kilometers) from Earth.

Jupiter comes to opposition once per year, when the faster-moving Earth gains a lap on the sluggish giant and passes between Jupiter and the sun. This event allows astronomers using telescopes in space and on the ground to see more detail in the atmosphere of Jupiter. The reason for this phenomenon is still unknown. Jupiter family comets are thought to form in the Kuiper belt outside the orbit of Neptune. Image credit: NASA / ESA / A. Simon, Goddard Space Flight Center.


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