Scientists obtain images of Jupiter showing “jack-o-lantern” effect

With help from a technique known as “lucky imaging,” researchers have used the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii to capture some of the highest-resolution images of Jupiter ever obtained from the ground. Combined with optical and radio observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Juno spacecraft, the images reveal new information about the formation of Jupiter’s major storms and the planet’s famous Great Red Spot, according to the Gemini Observatory.

“Lucky imaging” involves taking a large amount of short exposure images, and only keeping the sharpest photos. 

“From a lucky imaging set of 38 exposures taken at each pointing, the research team selected the sharpest 10%, combining them to image one ninth of Jupiter’s disk,” the observatory explained in a press release. “Stacks of exposures at the nine pointings were then combined to make one clear, global view of the planet.” 

Jupiter, seen through the “lucky imaging” technique.  International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley)

The technique allowed the team to obtain “ultra-sharp Gemini infrared images” of the planet, the observatory said. 

“These images rival the view from space,” Michael Wong of UC Berkeley, who led the research team, said in the release. 

The Gemini North Near Infrared Imager (NIRI) can pass through the thin haze caused by Jupiter’s storms, but its images are still obscured by thick clouds high in the planet’s atmosphere. That created a “jack-o-lantern” effect, in which “the warm, deep layers of Jupiter’s atmosphere glow through gaps in the planet’s thick cloud cover,” the press release said. 

“You see bright infrared light coming from cloud-free areas, but where there are clouds, it’s really dark in the infrared,” Wong explained. 

Over the past three years, researchers have used imaging of Jupiter by Gemini and Hubble to understand Jupiter’s wind patterns, atmospheric waves, and cyclones. 

The information collected also helped researchers confirm that spots in the Giant Red Spot that appeared dark to Hubble are actually gaps in the cloud cover and are not cloud color variations, as previously believed. 

stsci-h-2018a-f-3840x2160-0.png Images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, made using data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Gemini Observatory. NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley) and team

The scientists also studied Jupiter’s “gigantic” storms – which include vertical clouds called thunderheads that are 40 miles long from base to top, five times taller than typical thunderheads on Earth, according to NASA. 

The Gemini data gave researchers a glimpse down to the deep water clouds, providing them with “another tool for estimating the amount of water in Jupiter’s atmosphere,” NASA said. “This is is important for understanding how Jupiter and the other gas and ice giants formed, and therefore how the solar system as a whole formed.”

The images from Hubble and Gemini in support of the Juno mission are also helping scientists study many other weather phenomena like “changes in wind patterns, characteristics of atmospheric waves and the circulation of various gases in the atmosphere,” NASA said.

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