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Ammonia storms on Jupiter provide perfect cloud bands



Jupiter's clouds are a nice nuisance and block a deeper look of the scientists on the gas giant – a necessary look if they want to understand how the planet works.

But astronomers have made some progress on this problem with the Telescope Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study the Jupiter's atmosphere with radio waves. Even more intriguing, they did so only days after the discovery of an ammonia outburst by an amateur astronomer bubbling from within the planet into the so-called South Equatorial Belt.

"When these flags are strong and persistent Convection events can over time disturb one of these bands, although this may take several months," said lead author Imke de Pater, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley. in a statement ]. "With these observations, we see one cloud underway and the aftermath of the other."

Related: Hubble's Jupiter views could demystify the shrinking of the Great Red Spot

An image based on ALMA data for the distribution of ammonia on Jupiter.

(Photo credit: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), I. de Pater et al., NRAO / AUI NSF, S. Dagnello)

Scientists have already seen the change in the southern equatorial belt earlier. The cloud region goes through what astronomers have called the "Fade and Revival Cycle" as the belt vanishes from brown to white and then darkens with Storm Breakouts . This time, as de Pater and her colleagues wrote, there was no fading, but they still believe that their observations represent yet another installment in this cycle. Four massive white feathers nearby had turned the belt orange a few months earlier, before de Pater and her colleagues set to work to collect observations of the striped giant. Our ALMA observations were the first to show that high concentrations of ammonia gas are released during an energetic outburst, "said de Pater." Combining observations simultaneously at many different wavelengths allowed us to study the eruption in detail. "

Jupiter's atmosphere as shown in ALMA radio waves and in the visible light of the Hubble Space Telescope.

(Credit: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), I. de Pater et al .; NRAO / AUI NSF, S. Dagnello; NASA / Hubble)

In total, the team tracked down data from six different ground-based telescopes and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (1

9459003) (19459004), but particularly special was the ALMA data collected in the first days of January 2017.

The telescope array captures Radiowel A particularly long form of light, which allows the instrument to look under the cloud surfaces visible through a typical telescope. These upper clouds are full of ammonia – but ALMA was able to map the amount of this compound into the Jupiter atmosphere at a depth of about 40 or 50 kilometers. The resulting map plots the eruption in the south equatorial belt below the visible cloud cover. Astronomers believe that the eruption is anchored a little further down in the atmosphere, about 80 km below the surface. At this level, scientists believe that a layer of water supports an Earth-like flash, suggesting to the team that the ammonia clouds are generated by moist air circulating at the bottom of water clouds.

The research is described in an accepted article by the Astronomical Journal published on August 22, 1945 on the preprint server arXiv.org .

E-mail Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels [19659022]. Follow us on Twitter @SpaceTotcom and on Facebook .


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