Scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to produce new maps of Jupiter that reveal changes in the planet's iconic Great Red Spot. The stunning new images also show an unusual wave structure in Jupiter's atmosphere for the first time in decades.
The images captured a variety of features of Jupiter's atmosphere such as winds, clouds and storms, the European Space Agency reported. Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 produced two complete maps of the solar system's largest planet. The maps allow the scientists to determine the speeds of Jupiter's winds and track changes in the Great Red Spot.
"Every time we look at Jupiter, we get tantalizing hints that something really exciting is going on," said Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "This time is no exception."
The new observations confirm the storm that creates the Great Red Spot and has been raging for over 300 years is gradually shrinking. The spot has been decreasing at a faster rate every year, but now the rate of shrinkage appears to be slowing down. The images also revealed a mysterious wispy filament in the center of the feature. The rare wave structure seen on the planet is believed to have originated in a clear layer beneath the clouds, and is likely only visible when it propagates up into the cloud deck.
The maps are the first in a series of annual portraits of the Solar System's outer planets that will aim to study how planets change over time.
"The long-term value of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program is really exciting," said co-author Michael H. Wong of the University of California, Berkeley. "The collection of maps that we will build up over time will not only help scientists understand the atmospheres of our giant planets, but also the atmospheres of planets being discovered around other stars, and Earth's atmosphere and oceans, too."