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Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley)
It's been a big year for Jupiter. NASA released an image of its surface that put The Scream's pastel swirls to shame and the giant planet has also been a part of two major astronomical cameos this year -- it appeared in the same sky as the moon, Mars, and Saturn twice. But while it's unlikely we'll see a view like that again until 2022, researchers have just released a little treat to hold us over: some of the sharpest images of Jupiter ever captured from Earth.
Scientists announced Thursday that the Gemini North telescope, located on Hawaii’s Maunakea, has captured multi-wavelength images that, in combination with those from the Hubble Space Telescope, reveal lightning strikes on the planet's surface.
The technique researchers used was called "lucky imagining," according to a press release, but the team did not rely on finger crossing alone. "Lucky exposure" involves using a high-speed camera with exposure times short enough to minimize effects caused by changes in the Earth's atmosphere, which tend to distort the images.
Lead researcher Michael Wong of UC Berkeley said that lucky imaging is "very powerful" and that these new images "rival the view from space."
“The Gemini data were critical because they allowed us to probe deeply into Jupiter’s clouds on a regular schedule,” said Wong. The images are being used alongside Hubble Space Telescope data in support of NASA's Juno mission. Images from both telescopes have helped scientists understand the planet's weather patterns, atmospheric components, and cyclones, including the Great Red Spot, a persistent high-pressure region of the planet that produces a constant anticyclonic storm that greatly resembles the state of our society today.
Credit: Courtesy of International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley)
Credit: Courtesy of International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, M.H. Wong
Credit: Courtesy of NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley) and team
Speaking of the Great Red Spot, the new data confirm that the dark patches we see within the red spot are gaps in clouds, not color variations on the planet's surface. Enjoy your newfound ability to sleep at night.
“Similar features have been seen in the Great Red Spot before," Gemini team member Glenn Orton told Forbes. "But 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."
Credit: Courtesy of NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley)
But now that the telescope has blown up Jupiter's spot, we have an even better understanding of the gas planet's weather patterns... Hopefully one day we'll begin to understand the absurd weather patterns of our own.
Ready to go stargazing?
Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners.
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