The gas giant is showing signs of massive changes, but the reasons why remain a mystery.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, has made some dramatic transformations in recent years, a new study reveals.
Huge belts in the giant planet's atmosphere have changed color, radiation hotspots have faded and flared up again, and cloud levels have thickened and dissolved, all while space rocks have been hurtling into it the gas giant, astronomers said.
"The changes we're seeing in Jupiter are global in scale," Glenn Orton, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement today (Oct. 17). Orton and his colleagues have been snapping infrared images of Jupiter from 2009 to 2012 and comparing them with amateur astronomers' visible images.
Astronomers previously observed that from 2009 to 2011, a big brown belt just south of the equator, called the South Equatorial Belt, disappeared and returned.
Orton and his team found that in 2011 the North Equatorial Belt grew whiter than it had in a century, though it started to darken again earlier this year. And along the southern edge of this belt, the team observed infrared hotspots (which signal radiation being released from a deep layer of Jupiter's atmosphere) vanished from 2010 to 2011, but remerged by June 2012. During this period, the researchers also observed thickening of the deeper cloud decks in the northern belt, the while both the deeper and upper cloud decks of the southern belt condensed and then cleared up.