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Space telescope spots Jupiter – planet ‘still surprises’

Space telescope spots Jupiter – planet ‘still surprises’

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Thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope, researchers have once again been able to gather new insights about Jupiter that had previously remained undiscovered.

FRANKFURT – Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is perhaps also the most exciting. Because time and time again, scientists have a real aha moment when studying Jupiter. Recent research has shown that even if other giant planets behave differently, Jupiter protects life on Earth.

Space researchers have used the James Webb Space Telescope, a joint effort of NASA, ESA and CSA, to examine the region above Jupiter's Great Red Spot and have discovered numerous previously undiscovered structures and activities. This region, once considered indistinct, now shows surprising complexity, as the European Space Agency mentioned.

A surprising discovery: This is what scientists knew about Jupiter

Jupiter is one of the brightest objects in the night sky and is easy to see on clear days. Although the aurora shines brightly in the northern and southern regions of the planet, the upper atmosphere is difficult to see with ground-based telescopes. However, thanks to the space telescope's infrared sensitivity, scientists can explore the Great Red Spot in the upper atmosphere in unprecedented detail. Recently, another research team revealed an ancient secret about the Great Red Spot.

Jupiter is constantly providing new research insights. © Imago/Bond5 Images

Since Jupiter receives only 4 percent of the sunlight that hits Earth, astronomers previously assumed the region was naturally homogeneous. But surprisingly, researchers have discovered complex structures such as dark arcs and bright spots that span the entire field of view.

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“We initially thought this region would be quite bland, but in fact it is just as magnificent as the northern lights, if not more so. Jupiter never ceases to amaze,” says Henrik Melin, team leader and professor at the University of Leicester in the UK. The research team suspects that in addition to sunlight, there is another mechanism that affects the shape and structure of Jupiter's upper atmosphere.

The James Webb Space Telescope took a closer look at Jupiter's Great Red Spot.
The James Webb Space Telescope takes a closer look at Jupiter's Great Red Spot. © ESA/Webb, NASA and CSA, Jupiter ERS Team, J. Schmidt, H. Melin, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb)

Observing Jupiter with a space telescope: How might Jupiter's structure change?

Structural changes on Jupiter could be caused by gravitational waves, similar to sea waves leaving trails in the sand. “These waves originate deep in the turbulent lower atmosphere, around the Great Red Spot, and can move upward and change the structure and emissions of the upper atmosphere,” Melin explains in the ESA statement. These atmospheric waves can sometimes be observed on Earth, but they are much weaker than what is observed on Jupiter.

The research team hopes to conduct more observations of these complex wave patterns in the future to study how the patterns move in the planet’s upper atmosphere. The results could enhance our understanding of the energy budget in this region and the changes in these features over time. The James Webb Space Telescope recently revealed the big secret of the star WL 20S. (CG)