The results of a paper on Jupiter's atmosphere were released by NASA today, and it appears that big changes are happening for the solar system's biggest planet. Among the roiling clouds covering Jupiter, belts of the atmosphere are changing color, hotspots are vanishing or reappearing, and clouds are gathering.
Glenn Orton, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and his colleagues from around the world took infrared images and maps of Jupiter from 2009 to 2012, then compared them with high-quality visible light images from the amateur astronomy community. During that time the team saw fading and darkening of a brown-colored belt called the South Equatorial Belt and the thickening of deeper cloud decks. They also observed the disappearance and reappearance of blue-gray "hotspots" along the southern edge of the North Equatorial Belt that reveal radiation emerging from deep in Jupiter's atmosphere.
"The changes we're seeing in Jupiter are global in scale," Orton said. "We've seen some of these before, but never with modern instrumentation to clue us in on what's going on. Other changes haven't been seen in decades, and some regions have never been in the state they're appearing in now. At the same time, we've never seen so many things striking Jupiter. Right now, we're trying to figure out why this is all happening."
NASA announced last month that Jupiter has been suffering more impacts over the last four years than ever previously recorded, and released an amateur astronomer's image of a recent meteoroid impact.
The results from Orton's Jupiter observations were presented by Orton today at the 44th annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society. Other interesting findings revealed at the meeting include the hot cross bun on Titan, the four-star planet, and the color of Trojans orbiting Jupiter.
(Image courtesy NASA/IRTF/JPL-Caltech/NAOJ/A. Wesley/A. Kazemoto/C. Go)