Sharpening up Jupiter

Oct 02, 2008
Amazing image of Jupiter taken in infrared light on the night of Aug. 17, 2008, with the Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics Demonstrator prototype instrument mounted on ESO's Very Large Telescope. This false colour photo is the combination of a series of images taken over a time span of about 20 minutes, through three different filters (2, 2.14, and 2.16 microns). The image sharpening obtained is about 90 milli-arcseconds across the whole planetary disc, a real record on similar images taken from the ground. This corresponds to seeing details about 300 km wide on the surface of the giant planet. The great red spot is not visible in this image as it was on the other side of the planet during the observations. The observations were done at infrared wavelengths where absorption due to hydrogen and methane is strong. This explains why the colours are different from how we usually see Jupiter in visible-light. This absorption means that light can be reflected back only from high-altitude hazes, and not from deeper clouds. These hazes lie in the very stable upper part of Jupiter's troposphere, where pressures are between 0.15 and 0.3 bar. Mixing is weak within this stable region, so tiny haze particles can survive for days to years, depending on their size and fall speed. Additionally, near the planet's poles, a higher stratospheric haze (light blue regions) is generated by interactions with particles trapped in Jupiter's intense magnetic field. Credit: ESO/F. Marchis, M. Wong, E. Marchetti, P. Amico, S. Tordo

A record two-hour observation of Jupiter using a superior technique to remove atmospheric blur has produced the sharpest whole-planet picture ever taken from the ground. The series of 265 snapshots obtained with the Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics Demonstrator (MAD) prototype instrument mounted on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) reveal changes in Jupiter's smog-like haze, probably in response to a planet-wide upheaval more than a year ago.

Being able to correct wide field images for atmospheric distortions has been the dream of scientists and engineers for decades. The new images of Jupiter prove the value of the advanced technology used by MAD, which uses two or more guide stars instead of one as references to remove the blur caused by atmospheric turbulence over a field of view thirty times larger than existing techniques.

"This type of adaptive optics has a big advantage for looking at large objects, such as planets, star clusters or nebulae," says lead researcher Franck Marchis, from UC Berkeley and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, USA. "While regular adaptive optics provides excellent correction in a small field of view, MAD provides good correction over a larger area of sky. And in fact, were it not for MAD, we would not have been able to perform these amazing observations."

MAD allowed the researchers to observe Jupiter for almost two hours on 16 and 17 August 2008, a record duration, according to the observing team. Conventional adaptive optics systems using a single Jupiter moon as reference cannot monitor Jupiter for so long because the moon moves too far from the planet. The Hubble Space Telescope cannot observe Jupiter continuously for more than about 50 minutes, because its view is regularly blocked by the Earth during Hubble's 96-minute orbit.

Using MAD, ESO astronomer Paola Amico, MAD project manager Enrico Marchetti and Sébastien Tordo from the MAD team tracked two of Jupiter's largest moons, Europa and Io – one on each side of the planet – to provide a good correction across the full disc of the planet. "It was the most challenging observation we performed with MAD, because we had to track with high accuracy two moons moving at different speeds, while simultaneously chasing Jupiter," says Marchetti.

With this unique series of images, the team found a major alteration in the brightness of the equatorial haze, which lies in a 16 000-kilometre wide belt over Jupiter's equator. More sunlight reflecting off upper atmospheric haze means that the amount of haze has increased, or that it has moved up to higher altitudes. "The brightest portion had shifted south by more than 6000 kilometres," explains team member Mike Wong.

This conclusion came after comparison with images taken in 2005 by Wong and colleague Imke de Pater using the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble images, taken at infrared wavelengths very close to those used for the VLT study, show more haze in the northern half of the bright Equatorial Zone, while the 2008 VLT images show a clear shift to the south.

"The change we see in the haze could be related to big changes in cloud patterns associated with last year's planet-wide upheaval, but we need to look at more data to narrow down precisely when the changes occurred," declares Wong.

Source: ESO

Explore further: Toothpaste fluorine formed in stars

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Apple's freshly sliced shares climb

37 minutes ago

Freshly split Apple shares closed at a high on Tuesday, with investors evidently betting the California company will debut popular new gadgets, perhaps a smart watch and an iPhone 6.

France fights back Asian hornet invader

47 minutes ago

They slipped into southwest France 10 years ago in a pottery shipment from China and have since invaded more than half the country, which is fighting back with drones, poisoned rods and even chickens.

Tide turns for shark fin in China

57 minutes ago

A sprawling market floor in Guangzhou was once a prime location for shark fin, one of China's most expensive delicacies. But now it lies deserted, thanks to a ban from official banquet tables and a celebrity-driven ...

New research reveals clock ticking for fruit flies

1 hour ago

The army of pesky Queensland fruit flies that annually inflict many millions of dollars-worth of damage on the nation's horticultural industry may be about to see their numbers take a significant dive thanks ...

Recommended for you

Spectacular supernova's mysteries revealed

15 hours ago

(Phys.org) —New research by a team of UK and European-based astronomers is helping to solve the mystery of what caused a spectacular supernova in a galaxy 11 million light years away, seen earlier this ...

Supernova seen in two lights

16 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The destructive results of a mighty supernova explosion reveal themselves in a delicate blend of infrared and X-ray light, as seen in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra ...

Toothpaste fluorine formed in stars

Aug 21, 2014

The fluorine that is found in products such as toothpaste was likely formed billions of years ago in now dead stars of the same type as our sun. This has been shown by astronomers at Lund University in Sweden, ...

Swirling electrons in the whirlpool galaxy

Aug 20, 2014

The whirlpool galaxy Messier 51 (M51) is seen from a distance of approximately 30 million light years. This galaxy appears almost face-on and displays a beautiful system of spiral arms.

User comments : 0