Science & Technology

Spanish scientists map Jupiter’s stormy weather systems

Pamplona, Spain, Apr 27 (EFE).- Spanish scientists are mapping Jupiter’s surface using Nasa imaging to pinpoint the size and location of the planet’s meteorological structures.

The Planetarium of Pamplona is working with the University of the Basque Country, both in northern Spain, using images from a camera on Nasa’s Juno mission.

The Juno mission, which launched in August 2011 and entered in Jupiter’s orbit in July 2016, travels with a camera, known as the JunoCam, which was “shoehorned” on to the spacecraft at the last minute by NASA with the sole purpose of producing “postcards” of the biggest planet in our solar system, Iñaki Ordóñez, head of research at the planetarium, told reporters at a Wednesday press conference.

Nasa’s Juno spacecraft has been taking breathtaking high-resolution images of about three kilometers of planetary surface per pixel since its first close encounter with the gas giant in 2016.

The Planetarium of Pamplona and the Planetary Science Group of the University of the Basque Country have been processing the captured images to calculate the latitude and longitude of each structure observed.

Jupiter is a very oval planet, flattened at the poles due to its composition and its speedy rotation, Ordóñez explained.

A day on the stormy planet lasts less than ten hours, and identifying the real “shape” of the planet’s structures and positioning them precisely on the “map” is the team’s main task.

The spacecraft completes an orbit every one and a half or two months and Nasa publishes fresh images captured over the course of two orbits every 4 months.

So far, the Spanish planetarium has processed around 2,000 images collected during 35 orbits.

Three scientific papers have been published using the research results collected to date, including one on the Clyde Spot, a storm named after Clyde Foster, an amateur astronomer who discovered it from South Africa in 2000.

Another article analyzes Jupiter’s famed Great Red Spot, an enormous storm system that is twice the size of our planet and has been under observation for 400 years.

Ordóñez told reporters at the presser that among the scientific community rumor had it that the spot was shrinking and that it could eventually disappear, but the recent article concludes that any variation in size is only superficial and that the inner layers of the monumental storm maintain their original proportions.

Researchers at the planetarium have ascertained the height of Jupiter’s swirling clouds, which give the planet its characteristic colorful and stripey aesthetic.

By assessing the shadows the clouds cast, observers have concluded that they are around 20 to 30 kilometers thick, given astronomers have not yet determined whether the planet has a surface.

The fruits of the team’s hard work are now displayed on the Pamplona planetarium’s dome, placing Jupiter’s weather systems and structures in their correct locations and with their accurate proportions, an organic task that is constantly being updated as their position shifts from one orbit to another.

Ordóñez said that this type of research could help scientists understand climate change processes, given Jupiter is like a “simpler laboratory” when compared to Earth and allows for an easier analysis of the interactions and evolution of its atmosphere.

NASA, the expert added, has contacted the Planetarium of Pamplona to learn more about their methods of processing images and has also collaborated in the preparation of scientific papers. EFE


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