Ground-based telescopes observe Jupiter to support the mission of the Juno space probe

Jupiter seen by the Subaru telescope (Photo NAOJ/NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Jupiter seen by the Subaru telescope (Photo NAOJ/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Two telescopes in Hawaii were used for new observations of the planet Jupiter and in particular of its famous Great Red Spot. They were conducted to support NASA Juno space probe’s mission, which on July 10 will fly over the giant jovian storm. The Gemini North telescope was used with special near-infrared filters to produce specific colors that can penetrate Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and clouds. The Subaru telescope’s COMICS instrument was used with mid-infrared filters.

It may seem strange that the work of the mission of a space probe orbiting the planet Jupiter is supported by ground-based telescopes but different instruments can provide different information for different periods. NASA’s Juno space probe’s mission is part of a wider range of scientific research on the planet Jupiter, in turn linked for example to researches on gas giant planets in general.

This means that there are collaborations between NASA and various observatories on Earth to coordinate efforts and put the collected data together to provide researchers with the highest possible quantity and quality. Glenn Orton, a member of Juno’s team at NASA’s JPL, explained that ground-based telescope’s observations enhance Juno’s planned observations by providing three additional context types. Ground-based telescopes can see the entire planet, they can see Jupiter’s characteristics over a period of time and can see it at wavelengths unavailable to Juno.

In preparation for the next Juno’s Jupiter flyby, which will focus on the Great Red Spot, the Gemini North and the Subaru telescopes, both on Mauna Kea peak, on May 18, 2017, examined the storm larger than the Earth. These are observations that are added to the ones conducted earlier this year to provide information on the dynamics existing in Jupiter’s atmosphere at various depths and not just at the Great Red Spot.

The Gemini North telescope revealed at near-infrareds a mixture of methane and hydrogen in the atmosphere of the planet Jupiter. The observations showed a long and finely structured wave that extends off the eastern side of the Great Red Spot. The false-color image show mist particles present at various altitudes seen in reflected sunlight.

The Subaru Telescope’s Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrometer (COMICS) instrument showed that the Great Red Spot’s interior becomes colder and cloudy going toward its center, with a periphery that is warmer and clearer. A region in its northwest is abnormally turbulent and chaotic, with stripes that are cold and cloudy alternating with bands that are warm and clear.

The Juno space probe entered Jupiter’s orbit exactly a year ago and is providing interesting and sometimes surprising data on the planet. The synergy with the telescopes on Earth could bring further discoveries on the planet’s atmosphere and the Great Red Spot, one of its most iconic features.

Jupiter seen by the Gemini North telescope (Photo Gemini Observatory/AURA/NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Jupiter seen by the Gemini North telescope (Photo Gemini Observatory/AURA/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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