NASA’s Hubble image of Jupiter shows storms brewing on gas giant

A lot is going on on Jupiter as revealed by the latest Hubble image, taken from 406 million miles away. In the mid-northern latitudes of the planet, a storm is stretching out and travelling at 350 miles per hour.

Storms only form in this region of the planet every six years on average, so NASA managed to snap the image just at the right time.

NASA said: “While it’s common for storms to pop up in this region every six years or so, often with multiple storms at once, the timing of the Hubble observations is perfect for showing the structure in the wake of the disturbance, during the early stages of its evolution.

“Trailing behind the plume are small, rounded features with complex ‘red, white, and blue’ colours in Hubble’s ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light image.

“Such discrete features typically dissipate on Jupiter, leaving behind only changes in cloud colours and wind speeds, but a similar storm on Saturn led to a long-lasting vortex.

“The differences in the aftermaths of Jupiter and Saturn storms may be related to the contrasting water abundances in their atmospheres, since water vapour may govern the massive amount of stored-up energy that can be released by these storm eruptions.”

Beneath the storm is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot – a huge storm system which measures about 9,800 miles across and has been raging since at least 1655, when it was first discovered by astronomer Robert Hooke.

However, observations since the 1930s show that the storm system is shrinking, and as NASA concedes, “its dwindling size is a complete mystery.”

The space agency added: “Hubble shows that the Great Red Spot, rolling counterclockwise in the planet’s southern hemisphere, is plowing into the clouds ahead of it, forming a cascade of white and beige ribbons.

“The Great Red Spot is currently an exceptionally rich red colour, with its core and outermost band appearing deeper red.”

Floating alongside Jupiter in the image is one of the planet’s 79 moons, Europa.

Europa has long piqued the interest of astronomers as it could hold the conditions to support life.

Europa is covered in a thick layer of ice, but there could be liquid oceans beneath the surface due to a process known as tidal heating.

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Tidal heating is where the gravitational pull of the moons’ planets, in this case Jupiter, stretches the lunar satellites’ interior, causing it to heat enough to keep water in that state.

NASA has plans to send the Europa Clipper to Jupiter’s moon “in the 2020s”.

A previous statement from NASA said: “The Europa Clipper mission, launching in the 2020s, will be the first dedicated and detailed study of a probable ocean world beyond Earth.

“Jupiter’s moon Europa, slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon, may host a liquid water ocean under its frozen shell, making it a tantalising place to search for signs of life.

“The mission will conduct an in-depth exploration of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, and investigate whether the icy moon could harbour conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology.”

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