Astronomers To Study Jupiter’s Stunning Great Red Spot In Depth With NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

ESA/HubbleAP Images

While scientists have been closely monitoring Jupiter’s Great Red Spot since 1830, with the storm raging for over 350 years, they will now be employing NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to learn more about this unusual location on the planet.

As Science Daily report, the University of Leicester’s Leigh Fletcher is in charge of the telescope’s research into Jupiter’s storm, which all began with astronomer Heidi Hammel, who explained that the Hubble Telescope has shown that Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has undergone many changes over the course of the many years of its observation.

“Webb’s infrared sensitivity provides a wonderful complement to Hubble visible-wavelength studies of the Great Red Spot. Hubble images have revealed striking changes in the size of the Great Red Spot over the mission’s multi-decade-long lifetime.”

Fletcher’s strategy will be to use the James Webb Space Telescope’s mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) so that astronomers will be able to observe cloud, thermal and chemical structures of Jupiter with the help of multispectral maps.

After looking at infrared wavelengths, astronomers may then be able to better understand what is behind the spot’s color. It is currently thought that its distinct color is due to ultraviolet radiation emanating from the sun that then unites with sulfur, phosphorus and nitrogen, but new observations should be able to verify if this is in fact correct.

By using MIRI, astronomers will be able to gaze at the Great Red Spot in the 5 to 7 micrometer range, which would be the first time that this particular electromagnetic spectrum has been observed on Jupiter.

As it would be quite impossible for astronomers to ever study such wavelengths from our planet, this means that with the James Webb Space Telescope research can now be conducted on chemical compounds of the planet that were were previously impossible to observe, as Fletcher explained.

“We’ll be looking for signatures of any chemical compounds that are unique to the Great Red Spot which could be responsible for the red chromophores. If we don’t see any unexpected chemistry or aerosol signatures, then the mystery of that red color may remain unresolved.”

Observations should also show whether heat is being released into the upper atmosphere of the planet by the Great Red Spot, which is just one of the reasons why this area might have the extremely high temperatures that it does.

Another possibility for its temperature, according to new findings by NASA, indicate that when sound waves collide with gravity waves, you may also get extreme heat. Leigh Fletcher noted that data taken from the James Webb Space Telescope should be able to solve this mystery once and for all.

“Any waves produced by the vigorous convective activity within the storm must pass through the stratosphere before they reach the ionosphere and thermosphere. So if they really do exist and are responsible for heating Jupiter’s upper layers, hopefully we’ll see evidence for their passage in our data.”

With astronomers puzzled over the longevity of Jupiter’s storm and so many questions currently unanswered, it is hoped that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will be able to shed more light on the planet’s Great Spot Red.