Before Jupiter’s close encounter with the Earth, the US space agency NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning picture of the gas giant, revealing its famous Great Red Spot.
The European Space Agency (ESA) said the latest picture also reveals several colourful bands that run parallel to the equator. The latest image is an addition to several other pictures taken in the past. Clubbed together, they let astronomers understand the changes taking place in the atmosphere of Jupiter.
The largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter is closest to the Earth this month and the Sun fully illuminates hemisphere facing our planet. This special configuration was used by the Hubble Space Telescope to take an image of the gas giant.
Hubble utilised this favourable alignment on April 3 and focussed towards Jupiter to click the latest picture. Using the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which allows observations in ultraviolet, visible and infrared light, Hubble observed Jupiter.
The latest picture provides a sharp glimpse of Jupiter and reveals many features in its dense atmosphere. Hubble can resolve features as small as about 130 kilometres across as it is so close.
The surface of Jupiter is divided into several distinct, colourful bands, running parallel to the equator.
These bands are created by differences in the opacity of the clouds which have varying quantities of frozen ammonia in them; the lighter bands have higher concentrations than the darker bands.
The differing concentrations are kept separate by fast winds which can reach speeds of up to 650 kilometres per hour.
The most recognisable feature on Jupiter is the huge anticyclonic storm, called the Great Red Spot - this storm is large enough to engulf a whole Earth-sized planet at once.
However, as with the last images of Jupiter taken by Hubble and telescopes on the ground, this new image confirms that the huge storm which has raged on Jupiter’s surface for at least 150 years continues to shrink.
Next to the Great Red Spot a much smaller storm can be seen at farther southern latitudes - dubbed “Red Spot Junior”.On April 7, Jupiter will come into opposition, the point at which the planet is located directly opposite the Sun in the sky. This means that the Sun, Earth and Jupiter line up, with Earth sitting in between the Sun and the gas giant.
Opposition also marks the planet’s closest approach to Earth - about 670 million kilometres - so that Jupiter appears brighter in the night sky than at any other time in the year.
This event allows astronomers using telescopes in space and on the ground to see more detail in the atmosphere of Jupiter.
From sunset tomorrow to sunrise on Saturday, gas giant Jupiter will be at “opposition,” positioned directly opposite the sun from the Earth. pic.twitter.com/4VnMfOF72C— NASA (@NASA) April 6, 2017
(With inputs from PTI)