James Webb Telescope Discovers High-Speed Jet Stream in Jupiter's Atmosphere
Oct 19, 2023 - In a groundbreaking discovery, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has unveiled a remarkable feature hidden within the depths of Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere. This newly revealed high-speed jet stream, stretching over 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) wide, hovers above Jupiter's equator, high above its primary cloud layers. This revelation promises to unlock essential insights into the intricate dynamics of Jupiter's atmosphere, shedding light on the interactions between its layers. Moreover, it underscores the unique capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope in unraveling the mysteries of distant celestial bodies.
A Glimpse of Webb's View of Jupiter
The stunning imagery captured by the James Webb Space Telescope presents Jupiter in all its majestic glory. The planet stands out against the inky backdrop of space, with its iconic Great Red Spot dominating the scene. Jupiter's atmosphere is a kaleidoscope of colors, featuring swirling horizontal stripes of green, periwinkle, light pink, and cream. Over the equator, a wide cream-colored band extends approximately 1/7 of the planet's diameter. These layers interact and blend at their boundaries, creating a mesmerizing tapestry of colors. The poles of the planet emit a vibrant green glow, and bright red auroras shimmer just above the surface.
The Unexpected Discovery
Ricardo Hueso of the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, the lead author of the study, expressed his astonishment, stating, "This is something that totally surprised us. What we have always seen as blurred hazes in Jupiter's atmosphere now appear as crisp features that we can track along with the planet's fast rotation." The data used for this groundbreaking discovery was collected from Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) in July 2022.
The James Webb Space Telescope's Early Release Science program, led by Imke de Pater from the University of California, Berkeley, and Thierry Fouchet from the Observatory of Paris, was instrumental in capturing images of Jupiter 10 hours apart in four different filters. These filters enabled the detection of changes in small features at various altitudes in Jupiter's atmosphere.
Webb's Unique Perspective
Jupiter, a gas giant, differs significantly from Earth, but both planets share layered atmospheres. While previous missions like NASA's Juno and Cassini, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope, have observed Jupiter's changing weather patterns, Webb offers a unique perspective. It can delve deeper into Jupiter's near-infrared spectrum, focusing on the higher-altitude layers of the atmosphere, approximately 15-30 miles (25-50 kilometers) above the planet's cloud tops. This vantage point has enabled the identification of finer details within the bright equatorial band.
A Speedy Revelation
The newfound high-speed jet stream discovered by Webb travels at a staggering speed of 320 miles per hour (515 kilometers per hour), which is twice the sustained winds of a Category 5 hurricane on Earth. This jet stream is situated around 25 miles (40 kilometers) above Jupiter's clouds, within the lower stratosphere. By comparing the winds observed by Webb at high altitudes with those observed at deeper layers by Hubble, researchers can measure the rate at which the winds change with altitude, thereby generating wind shears.
Revealing the Three-Dimensional Storm Cloud Structure
Webb's exceptional resolution and broad wavelength coverage have not only facilitated the detection of small cloud features for tracking the jet stream but also enabled a comprehensive understanding of Jupiter's equatorial atmosphere. The simultaneous observations from Hubble, taken one day after Webb's observations, have been vital in establishing the base state of Jupiter's equatorial atmosphere and monitoring the development of convective storms not connected to the jet stream.
The research team is eager to continue their observations of Jupiter with the James Webb Space Telescope. They hope to determine whether the jet's speed and altitude undergo changes over time. The observations may also help validate theories related to the oscillating stratospheric pattern of Jupiter.
Jupiter, a celestial body that has captivated scientists and astronomers for centuries, continues to reveal its secrets. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope's groundbreaking discovery of the high-speed jet stream in Jupiter's atmosphere highlights the significance of continued space exploration and the invaluable insights that can be gained from observing distant worlds. As we anticipate more discoveries in the coming years, the James Webb Space Telescope remains at the forefront of unraveling the mysteries of our universe.
Source - NASA
Utilizing NASA's James Webb Space Telescope's NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera), researchers have unveiled a high-speed jet stream positioned above Jupiter's equator, soaring over the primary cloud decks. Operating at a 2.12-micron wavelength, which observes altitudes between 12-21 miles (20-35 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops, the team identified wind shears – zones where wind speeds vary with height or distance – that facilitated jet tracking. The image showcases disturbances in Jupiter's equatorial zone caused by the jet stream, evident within a single planetary rotation (10 hours). Image credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Ricardo Hueso (UPV), Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley), Thierry Fouchet (Observatory of Paris), Leigh Fletcher (University of Leicester), Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley), Joseph DePasquale (STScI).