Jupiter Photos Reveal Big Changes on Giant Planet

SPACE.com

Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, has made some dramatic transformations in recent years, a new study reveals.

Huge belts in the giant planet's atmosphere have changed color, radiation hotspots have faded and flared up again, and cloud levels have thickened and dissolved, all while space rocks have been hurtling into it the gas giant, astronomers said.

"The changes we're seeing in Jupiter are global in scale," Glenn Orton, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement today (Oct. 17). Orton and his colleagues have been snapping infrared images of Jupiter from 2009 to 2012 and comparing them with amateur astronomers' visible images.

Astronomers previously observed that from 2009 to 2011, a big brown belt just south of the equator, called the South Equatorial Belt, disappeared and returned.

Orton and his team found that in 2011 the North Equatorial Belt grew whiter than it had in a century, though it started to darken again earlier this year. And along the southern edge of this belt, the team observed infrared hotspots (which signal radiation being released from a deep layer of Jupiter's atmosphere) vanished from 2010 to 2011, but remerged by June 2012. During this period, the researchers also observed thickening of the deeper cloud decks in the northern belt, the while both the deeper and upper cloud decks of the southern belt condensed and then cleared up.

Jupiter has also suffered more impacts over the last four years than previously observed. [Surprise Impact on Jupiter (Video)]

At least three space rocks, likely less than 45 feet (15 meters) in diameter, have plunged the atmosphere, creating fireballs visible to Jupiter-watchers on the ground. The most recent asteroid strike on Jupiter hit on Sept. 10, but researchers don't believe this impact will cause any long-term disturbance on the planet.

Orton said astronomers have seen some of these changes before, "but never with modern instrumentation to clue us in on what's going on."

"Other changes haven't been seen in decades, and some regions have never been in the state they're appearing in now. At the same time, we've never seen so many things striking Jupiter," he explained in a statement. "Right now, we're trying to figure out why this is all happening."

Orton noted that the appearance of upheaval on Jupiter might be attributed to a recent flood of observations by amateur astronomers.

"It does appear that Jupiter is taking an unusual beating over the last few years, but we expect that this apparent increase has more to do with an increasing cadre of skilled amateur astronomers training their telescopes on Jupiter and helping scientists keep a closer eye on our biggest planet," Orton said.

The research was detailed today at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Reno, Nev.

Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

 

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

View Comments (1533)

Recommended for You

  • Police officer shot after responding to wrong home

    ATLANTA (AP) — A police officer was shot and critically wounded Monday when he responded to a call of a suspicious person and showed up at the wrong house, authorities said.

    Associated Press
  • Man sentenced to life with no parole walks free in Missouri

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man sentenced to life in prison without parole on a marijuana-related charge walked out of a Missouri prison a free man on Tuesday, after spending two decades behind bars.

    Associated Press48 mins ago
  • Woman Becoming Nun Needs Friend's Interest, Not Concern

    DEAR ABBY: I was best friends with "Joanne" after we met in middle school. She comes from a conservative Christian family and has three successful siblings. This has made her quirky, media-driven pursuits and city life a disappointment to her family. When we were teens and she learned that I was a…

    Dear Abby
  • Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announces she's pregnant with twins

    As with the birth of her son three years ago, Mayer writes that she plans to limit the amount of maternity leave she takes.

    CNET
  • All eyes on Manchester United as deadline day dawns

    Manchester United were the centre of attention as the Premier League's transfer deadline day dawned on Tuesday, with moves involving David de Gea and Anthony Martial awaiting completion. Goalkeeper De Gea had appeared on the brink of a move to Real Madrid worth between 30 million ($33.8 million)…

    AFP
  • Sword-wielding Patel crusader threatens Modi's 'model' in India

    By Rupam Jain Nair AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) - A sword-wielding 22-year-old activist has emerged overnight as the most pressing political threat to Narendra Modi, accusing the Indian prime minister of breaking a promise to provide jobs that helped him win last year's general election. Hardik…

    Reuters
  • World markets extend losses as China falters again

    Global stock markets plunged further on Tuesday as more gloomy evidence emerged of China's economic slowdown, leading to heavy sell-offs in Asia and Europe.

    AFP
  • Obama slams 'completely unacceptable' cop killing

    President Barack Obama vowed Monday to push for police officer safety after a Texas sheriff's deputy was gunned down from behind and shot multiple times at close range. Darren Goforth, 47, was killed late Friday in the Houston area, and local officials have blamed ramped-up rhetoric against police…

    AFP
  • World markets drop after bleak Chinese industry report

    TOKYO (AP) — Global stock markets fell sharply Tuesday and Wall Street was set to open lower as gloomy economic data from China and Japan augured further uncertainty for investors after a brutal August.

    Associated Press
  • Daughter Deep In Debt Needs Counseling, Not More Money

    DEAR ABBY: Three years ago I gave my adult daughter, married with a child, more than $16,000 to help pay off her debts because she couldn't pay her bills. She and her husband maintain separate accounts, which I find odd. He pays certain expenses; she pays others. Now I find she's deep in debt again…

    Dear Abby
  • This versatile 15-in-1 Travel Jacket is Kickstarter’s most funded piece of clothing at $7.2M

    Remember the MacGyver Travel Jacket that has 15 compartments that each have their own designated functions? It turns out that so many people loved the idea of having such a “smart” jacket that the project became the most funded piece of clothing in Kickstarter history, topping $7.2 million in…

    BGR News
  • Women are not getting treated for menopausal symptoms

    By Roxanne Nelson (Reuters Health) - Many women with severe menopausal symptoms are not being treated for them even though safe, effective remedies are available, a study from Australia suggests. The findings may be applicable to other countries, too, according to senior author Dr. Susan R. Davis…

    Reuters
  • Investigators: Arizona woman acknowledges drowning twin sons

    PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman told investigators that she drowned her 2-year-old twin sons and tried to kill her 3-year-old stepbrother in the same way because she didn't want them to live with the difficulties she faces.

    Associated Press
  • Play

    Decaying bodies found in unlicensed funeral home

    Police are investigating a funeral home in West Philadelphia for allegedly operating with an expired license.

    KABC – Los Angeles
  • Africa's richest man, Nigeria's Dangote, plans cement plant in Zimbabwe

    Africa's richest man, Nigerian Aliko Dangote, said on Monday he would build a cement plant in Zimbabwe, a major boost for the southern African country that is desperate for foreign investment. The billionaire, whose business empire includes Dangote Cement, also told journalists after meeting…

    Reuters
  • Missouri man faces execution for raping, killing 15-year-old

    ST. LOUIS (AP) — An inmate scheduled to be executed Tuesday for killing a 15-year-old Missouri girl has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his punishment, saying the death penalty is unconstitutional.

    Associated Press
  • Video of Israeli soldier arresting boy becomes latest in war of perception

    A soldier pins a boy down and is assaulted by his family: The scene might have gone unnoticed if not for footage that has turned it into another weapon in the Israel-Palestinian war of perception. Palestinians see it as proof of Israel's abuses in the occupied West Bank, while many Israelis say the…

    AFP