A New Weather Feature was Hiding in JWST’s Picture of Jupiter

Image of Jupiter taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) in July 2022 displays striking features of the largest planet in the solar system in infrared light, with brightness indicating high altitudes. One of these features is a jet stream within the large bright band just above Jupiter’s equator, which was the focus of this study. (Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, R. Hueso (University of the Basque Country), I. de Pater (University of California, Berkeley), T. Fouchet (Observatory of Paris), L. Fletcher (University of Leicester), M. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), J. DePasquale (STScI))

In July 2022, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) used its NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) to capture stunning infrared images of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. Within these striking images, scientists recently discovered a jet stream in the northern latitudes just over Jupiter’s equator and 20-35 kilometers (12-21 miles) above Jupiter’s cloud tops. This jet stream stretches approximately 4,800 kilometers (3,000 miles) with speeds of 515 kilometers per hour (320 miles per hour), more than double the speed of a Category 5 hurricane on Earth.

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A Fascinating Look at Jupiter's Clouds Where the Light Intensity is Converted Into 3D

A still image from the 3D animation that shows the elevation of Jupiter's cloud tops. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt

In July 2016, NASA’s Juno space probe reached Jupiter, becoming the second spacecraft in history to orbit the gas giant (the first being the Galileo probe that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003). The data it has sent back has led to new revelations about the Jovian atmosphere, magnetosphere, gravitational field, structure, and composition. While its primary mission was intended to only last until 2018, a mission extension means that Juno will continue to orbit Jupiter’s poles (a perijove maneuver) and send back stunning images and data until 2025.

Recently, a team of citizen scientists led by mathematician and software developer Gerald Eichstädt used images taken by the probe’s visible-light camera/telescope (the JunoCam) to create a 3D animation of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. Eichstädt’s animation was presented at the 2022 Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC), which took place from September 18 – 23 in Granada, and shows the relative heights of the cloud tops of Jupiter that reveal delicately textured swirls and peaks. Eichstädt’s work also showcased the potential for citizen science and public engagement with today’s missions.

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