(CNN) — Jupiter was one of the first targets when the James Webb Space Telescope turned its infrared gaze on the universe in July 2022. After capturing stunning images that defied astronomers’ expectations, the space probe has now revealed a never-before-seen feature. Gas giant atmosphere.
The researchers used Webb’s Near Infrared Camera, or NIRCam, to take a series of images of Jupiter at 10-hour intervals, using four different filters to detect changes in the planet’s atmosphere. Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, and the Webb telescope’s unprecedented capabilities have been used in the past year to discover many new celestial features, such as megaclusters of young stars and unexpected pairs of planets.
Astronomers have discovered a high-speed jet stream in Jupiter’s lower stratosphere, an atmospheric layer located 40 kilometers above the clouds. The jet stream, located above the planet’s equator, is more than 4,800 kilometers wide and moves at a speed of 515 kilometers per hour; That’s twice the sustained wind speed of a Category 5 hurricane on Earth.
The study’s findings, made possible by the web’s sensing capabilities, shed light on dynamic interactions in Jupiter’s stormy atmosphere.
“This is something that completely surprised us,” said Ricardo Hueso, lead author of the study, published Oct. 19 in the journal Education. Natural Astronomy, this is a statement. Hueso is Professor of Physics at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain.
“What we’ve always seen as fuzzy hazes in Jupiter’s atmosphere now appear as sharp features we can track with the planet’s rapid rotation,” he said.
Wild weather on Thursday
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and is made up of gases, so it cannot be that different from Earth. But, like our planet, Jupiter also has a stratified atmosphere. These turbulent layers have been observed by previous missions and telescopes trying to better understand how different parts of the atmosphere interact with each other. The layers also contain weather patterns, including centuries-old storms and clouds made of frozen ammonia, such as Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
While other missions have penetrated deeper beneath Jupiter’s swirling clouds using different wavelengths, Webb is uniquely positioned to study layers about 25 to 50 kilometers above the cloud top, spying previously indistinguishable details.
“While several ground-based telescopes, spacecraft such as NASA’s Juno and Cassini, and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have observed the changing weather patterns of the Jovian system, Webb has already provided new discoveries about Jupiter’s rings, satellites, and atmosphere.” and professor emeritus of planetary science, in a statement.
Manifestations of the jet stream
The researchers compared the winds detected by Webb at higher altitudes with those in the lower layers captured by Hubble and tracked changes in wind speed. Because Webb detected small clouds and Hubble provided views of the equatorial atmosphere, including storms unrelated to the jet, the two space observatories were necessary to detect the jet stream. Both telescopes provided a broad view of Jupiter’s complex atmosphere and processes within the layers.
“We know that the different wavelengths of Webb and Hubble can reveal the three-dimensional structure of storm clouds, but we were also able to use the timing of the data to see how quickly storms develop,” he said in a statement. Author Michael Wong, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the related Hubble observations.
Future observations of Jupiter using the Webb telescope may reveal more information about the jet stream, such as whether its speed and height change over time, as well as other surprises.
“Even after observing Jupiter’s clouds and wind from several observatories, we still have a lot to learn about Jupiter, and I am surprised that these jet-like features remained hidden from view until these new NIRCam images were taken in 2022,” the study says. co-author Lee Fletcher, a professor of planetary science at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.
“Jupiter has a complex but repeatable pattern of winds and temperatures in its equatorial stratosphere, above cloud winds and fog measured at these wavelengths. If the strength of this new jet is linked to this oscillating stratospheric pattern, expect the jet to vary significantly over the next 2 to 4 years.” . “It will be very exciting to test this theory in the coming years.”