Hubble's Stunning Jupiter Maps Reveal Weird Structures

After creating 2 maps of Jupiter's dynamic atmosphere, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope saw some interesting detail they they can't immediately explain.

Hubble's Jupiter Maps Reveal Weird Structures

Over a 10 hour period, the Hubble Space Telescope gazed at the solar system's largest planet to produce one of the most spectacular maps of Jupiter's complex and dynamic atmosphere. Immediately astronomers were able to measure the size of the planet's shrinking Great Red Spot and notice some mysterious structures along the way.

NEWS: Not-So-Great Red Spot: Jupiter's Epic Storm is Shrinking

Jupiter's trademark red spot is actually a very long duration storm that has been rumbling south of the planet's equatorial region for at least 300 years, since before the dawn of modern astronomy. However, the storm is weakening, causing the spot to shrink. Although the rate of shrinkage has recently slowed, the spot is 240 kilometers (150 miles) smaller than it was last year. 100 years ago, the spot was around 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) wide, it is now less than half that width.

As the spot has shrunk, it's color has also become more anemic, losing some of its redness. Also, as these new Hubble observations show, a strange wispy structure has formed inside the storm, becoming warped by the high-speed winds that have been clocked at a speed of 540 kilometers (335 miles) per hour. Astronomers, so far, have little explanation as to what this feature is or what caused it.

ANALYSIS: Eye of the Storm: Jupiter Moon Occults Great Red Spot

Another oddity has been spied just north of the planet's equator - a wave-like structure has formed, something that hasn't been seen since the Voyager 2 flyby in 1979. During that flyby, these waves were assumed to be a transient event and the fact the spacecraft imaged them was a fluke. But they've now returned, no doubt sparking some huge interest as to their origins.

Why Jupiter's Red Spot Won't Die

One theory suggests that these are baroclinic waves, which often form in the Earth's atmosphere as cyclones begin to form. As these Jovian waves are located in a region of cyclones and anticylones, it seems possible that they are baroclinic waves that are propagating upward into the upper cloud deck.

For more information about these new Jupiter observations and high-resolution versions, see the ESA news release.

This new image of Jupiter was made during the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program. The images from this program make it possible to determine the speeds of Jupiter’s winds, to identify different phenomena in its atmosphere and to track changes in its most famous features, like its Great Red Spot.

Image: The Hubble Space Telescope hangs above Earth in this photo taken by a NASA astronaut during one of the Hubble Servicing Missions.


Image: This famous observation of the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina, shows a beautiful and dramatic star-forming region. The image celebrated the 20th anniversary of Hubble's launch and deployment into an orbit around Earth in 2010.


Image: NASA astronaut Michael Good, STS-125 mission specialist, is seen from an aft flight deck window on the Space Shuttle Atlantis during the mission's second session of extravehicular activity (EVA) during the 2009 Hubble servicing mission. Fellow NASA astronaut Megan McArthur's reflection is also in shot.


Image: This observation by Hubble shows a new view of an old classic: The Horsehead Nebula.


Image: The dazzling Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), one of the Milky Way's closest galactic neighbors, dazzles in this detailed observation by Hubble.


Image: This close-up, visible-light view by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveals new details in the Ring Nebula.


Image: A view of the Hubble Space Telescope orbiting over South America.


MORE: Hubble at 25: Brief History of the Hubble Space Telescope