October 21, 2012

Jupiter’s Atmosphere is Seeing Big Changes

Researchers have revealed that as Jupiter gets scattered continually with tiny space rocks, its atmosphere is changing its color, hot spots are reappearing and vanishing and clouds tend to gather over one portion of Jupiter, while scattering over another.
Glenn Orton, one of the senior scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, Pasadena, California said the changes occur globally in Jupiter. He added that they had seen few of those changes before, but there were no modern instrumentation to give clue to us on what is going on there.

Other changes have not been noticed in decades and certain regions had not been in the stage they are appearing now. Meanwhile, they had never noticed the things striking Jupiter. But the scientists are right now trying to find out why this is happening.

Orton and his colleagues have been capturing images of Jupiter from 2009-2012 and creating maps at infrared wavelengths and comparing those images with the visible high-quality images from increasingly active amateur astronomy community.

After seeing the fading and returning of prominent brown colour belt from 2009-2012 at just south of equator, known as South Equatorial Belt, the team has studied similar darkening and fading occurred at the band north of equator, called North Equatorial Belt. In 2011, this belt became whiter to a great extent that it was not seen. Last March, the northern band began to darken further.

The team gained new information from Infrared Telescope Facility of NASA and Subaru Telescope in Mauna Kea which matched up with the findings from the infrared observations.

The team has also noticed a chain of blue-gray features at the southern brink of North Equatorial Belt. These features appear to be the driest and clearest regions on Jupiter and appear as obvious hotspots in infrared view, as they say the radiation is coming out from a deep layer of the Jupiter’s atmosphere.

http://i.space.com/images/i/7838/iFF/jupiter-asteroid-smash-EDIT.jpg?1296162148In 1995, Galileo spacecraft of NASA sent a probe to one such hotspot. Those hotspots vanished from 2010-2011, but they have again established by last June, corresponding with whitening and again darkening of North Equatorial Belt.

As Jupiter’s atmosphere has been shaking through the changes, a number of objects have dashed into the atmosphere of Jupiter, creating fireballs noticeable to the amateur Jupiter viewers on Earth.

Since 2010, three of such objects, perhaps less than 15 m in diameter  have been noticed. The latest hit of such objects on Jupiter was on September 10, 2012. But, Orton and his colleagues showed this did not produce lasting changes in Jupiter’s atmosphere, unlike those happened in 1994 or 2009.

By Saravanan Jawahar


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