Published: Friday, 19 November 2021 21:23
Hubble’s snapshots of the outer Solar System’s planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — reveal both extreme and subtle changes rapidly taking place in these gaseous and icy giants.
The new image of Jupiter, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on September 4, 2021, puts the giant planet’s tumultuous atmosphere on full display.
The giant planet’s equatorial zone is now a deep orange hue, which the Hubble astronomers are calling unusual.
While the equator has departed from its traditional white or beige appearance for a few years now, they were surprised to find a deeper orange in Hubble’s recent imaging, when they were expecting the zone to cloud up again.
Just above the equator, they note the appearance of several new storms, nicknamed ‘barges.’
These elongated red cells can be defined as cyclonic vortices, which vary in appearance.
Whilst some of the storms are sharply defined and clear, others are fuzzy and hazy.
This difference in appearance is caused by the physical properties within the clouds of the vortices.
The researchers also note that a feature dubbed Red Spot Jr. (Oval BA), below the Great Red Spot where Hubble just discovered winds are speeding up, is still a darker beige color, and is joined by several additional white, cyclonic storms to the south.
Hubble’s September 12 image of Saturn shows rapid and extreme color changes in the bands in the planet’s northern hemisphere, where it is now early autumn.
The bands have varied throughout Hubble observations in both 2019 and 2020.
Hubble’s image catches the planet following the southern hemisphere’s winter, evident in the lingering blue-ish hue of the south pole.
Hubble’s 25 October view of Uranus puts the planet’s bright northern polar hood in the spotlight.
It’s springtime in the northern hemisphere and the increase in ultraviolet radiation from the Sun seems to be causing the polar region to brighten.
The scientists aren’t sure why: it could be a change in the opacity of atmospheric methane, or some variation in the aerosol particles.
Curiously, even as the atmospheric hood gets brighter, the sharp southernmost boundary remains at the same latitude.
This has been constant over the past several years of Hubble observations of the planet.
Perhaps some sort of jetstream is setting up a barrier at that latitude of 43 degrees.
In observations taken on September 7, 2021, the astronomers found that Neptune’s dark spot, which was recently found to have reversed course from moving towards the equator, is still visible in this image, along with a darkened northern hemisphere.
There is also a notable dark, elongated circle encompassing Neptune’s south pole.
The blue color of both Neptune and Uranus is a result of the absorption of red light by the planets’ methane-rich atmospheres, combined with the same Rayleigh scattering effect that makes Earth’s sky blue.
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