New Hubble portrait of Jupiter

Photo: Jupiter as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope June 27, 2019.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals the intricate, detailed beauty of Jupiter’s clouds in this new image taken on June 27, 2019 by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, when the planet was 644 million kilometers from Earth — its closest distance this year. The image features the planet’s trademark Great Red Spot and a more intense color palette in the clouds swirling in the planet’s turbulent atmosphere than seen in previous years. The observations of Jupiter form part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)  — Click image to view full-size!

Among the most striking features in the image are the rich colors of the clouds moving toward the Great Red Spot. This huge anticyclonic storm is roughly the diameter of Earth and is rolling counterclockwise between two bands of clouds that are moving in opposite directions toward it.

As with previous images of Jupiter taken by Hubble, and other observations from telescopes on the ground, the new image confirms that the huge storm which has raged on Jupiter’s surface for at least 150 years continues to shrink. The reason for this is still unknown so Hubble will continue to observe Jupiter in the hope that scientists will be able to solve this stormy riddle. Much smaller storms appear on Jupiter as white or brown ovals that can last as little as a few hours or stretch on for centuries.

The worm-shaped feature located south of the Great Red Spot is a cyclone, a vortex spinning in the opposite direction to that in which the Great Red Spot spins. Researchers have observed cyclones with a wide variety of different appearances across the planet. The two white oval features are anticyclones, similar to small versions of the Great Red Spot.

The Hubble image also highlights Jupiter’s distinct parallel cloud bands. These bands consist of air flowing in opposite directions at various latitudes. They are created by differences in the thickness and height of the ammonia ice clouds; the lighter bands rise higher and have thicker clouds than the darker bands. The different concentrations are kept separate by fast winds which can reach speeds of up to 650 kilometers per hour.

These observations of Jupiter form part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, which began in 2014. This initiative allows Hubble to dedicate time each year to observing the outer planets and provides scientists with access to a collection of maps, which helps them to understand not only the atmospheres of the giant planets in the Solar System, but also the atmosphere of our own planet and of the planets in other planetary systems.

July 21 Open Night: Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn!

Image: Saturn and a few moons as it will appear the night of July 21. Simulation by "Gas Giants."
Saturn and a few moons as they will appear the night of July 21. Simulation by “Gas Giants.”


Stephens Memorial Observatory of Hiram College will be open for public observing Saturday, July 21, from 9:30 to 11:00 PM. Given good skies, visitors will see wonderful views of the Moon, giant planet Jupiter with moons of its own, and the “ring world” Saturn. Other objects of interest, such as star clusters, will also be sought, using the Observatory’s vintage telescope.

Cloudy skies at the scheduled starting time cancel the event and in that case, the observatory will not open. No reservations are required and there is no admission fee for observatory public nights.

The Observatory is located on Wakefield Road (Rt. 82) less than a quarter of a mile west of Route 700 in Hiram. There is no parking at the Observatory. Visitors may park on permissible side streets near the Post Office, a short distance east of the observatory.


Image: Jupiter and moon Io as they will appear at about 10 PM on July 21, 2018. The Great Red Spot will be front-and-center. Image: Gas Giants simulation.
Jupiter and moon Io as they will appear at about 10 PM on July 21, 2018. The Great Red Spot will be front-and-center. Image: Gas Giants simulation.

Cold night, great view

Photo: Earth's Moon - Mare Serenitatis & Mare Iridium. Photo by James Guilford.
The Moon: Mare Serenitatis (left, Sea of Serenity), half-lit Mare Iridium (right, Sea of Rainbows)

I can’t say as I blame them, the people who didn’t show for our observatory open night Saturday, March 28 — only seven braved the cold. After all, the temperature was about 19° (F), darned cold! But the sky was clear and the waxing Moon was high in the sky. Both Moon and Jupiter were sharing constellation Cancer with The Beehive star cluster (M44). Still, those sensible people who stayed home and warm missed a glorious view of old Luna. In my idle time waiting for visitors, I tried out a little afocal astrophotography using the observatory’s 9-inch Warner and Swasey telescope (ca. 1901) and my little Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 all-in-one. Most shots were a little shy of sharp, and all had some degree of chromatic aberration, and all had a big chunk of image missing where our century-old star diagonal is missing a bit of glass. One shot, however, did work out well, especially after a little fix-up including conversion to monochrome to eliminate color fringing. Not long after the last of our brave visitors left, I caught sight of the indistinct reappearance of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and that was it… time to close up and go home. My toes needed to be thawed.