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Breathtaking High-Res Images of Jupiter Reveal The inner Wild Storms

Jupiter is not a serene place. The giant planet is wracked with tempestuous storms, wide bands of roiling cloud that encircle the entire globe, extending to depths many times thicker than the atmospheric distance between Earth and space.

The gas giant's wild weather is so different from what happens on Earth that astronomers have struggled to understand it. But we just got another piece of the puzzle - in the form of breathtaking, near-infrared and optical images, taken using the powerful Gemini Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope.

(International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA M.H. Wong & team/Mahdi Zamani)

The Gemini near-infrared images capture thermal radiation glowing through the clouds from Jupiter's interior. When combined with Hubble's optical images taken within hours of the Gemini ones, scientists can piece together the internal and external activity.

The high-resolution images reveal that regions of cloud that appear darker in optical images actually glow the most brightly in infrared, indicating those regions have little to no cloud compared to the lighter bands.

"It's kind of like a jack-o-lantern," said astronomer Michael Wong of the University of California, Berkeley. "You see bright infrared light coming from cloud-free areas, but where there are clouds, it's really dark in the infrared."

This included a line curving around the edge of the Great Red Spot, a permanent storm currently a little larger than an entire Earth. Similar features had been seen in the storm before, but it was unclear what was causing them.

"Visible-light observation couldn't distinguish between darker cloud material, and thinner cloud cover over Jupiter's warm interior, so their nature remained a mystery," said planetary scientist Glenn Orton of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The new imagery cleared that question up rather neatly. When the two images were compared, a glowing infrared arc neatly matched up to an optical shadow, showing that the coloration marked a deep crack in the storm's swirling clouds.

(NASA, ESA & M.H. Wong/UC Berkeley & team)

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