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Turbulent thunderclouds disturb Jupiter's colorful appearance



Astronomers used six ground-based telescopes and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in January 2017 to capture views of Jupiter in visible light and radio waves.

Jupiter's atmosphere is made up of hydrogen and helium, two of the most abundant elements in the universe, with a pinch of methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, and water.

The telescopes were able to provide a unique view of all to 31 miles above the cloud deck. The upper cloud layer is ammonia ice, followed by a layer of solid ammonium hydrogen sulfide particles. The visibly stunning bands of white and brown zones are due to different composition. Below this upper cloud deck is a liquid water cloud layer.

The observations were included in a study published in the Astronomical Journal.

  Jupiter in radio waves (above) and visible light (below).

"With ALMA, we were able to create a three-dimensional map of the distribution of ammonia gas under the clouds.First time, we were able to study the atmosphere under the ammonia cloud layers for an energetics eruption on Jupiter," said study author Imke de Pater and emeritus professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley.

  ALMA image shows the distribution of ammonia gas under Jupiter's cloud cover.

They were able to track the storms in Jupiter's colorful belts, much as we observe them on Earth. These appear as bright spots on the colorful belts of the planet. The storms also contained lightning. When the storm clouds reach the coldest part of the atmosphere, they spread like cumulonimbus clouds, causing lightning and thunder on Earth.

The bright feathers cause disruptions in the belts, which can last months or even years.

"If these feathers are strong and continue to show convective events, over time they can interfere with one of these entire bands, although this may be the case take a few months," said de Pater. "With these observations, we see one cloud underway and the aftermath of the other."

  Jupiter's New Portrait, Shot by Hubble

The observations occurred when an amateur astronomer named Phil Miles spied an outbreak at the South Equator Belt in Australia, first as a small bright cloud followed by a major disruption of the belt that lasted for weeks.

The Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array in Chile recorded the view of the atmosphere beneath the clouds in radio waves, compared to other images of visible light and infrared simultaneously recorded by other telescopes.

"Our ALMA observations are the first to show that high levels of ammonia gas are produced by an energetic eruption," said de Pater. "This has led us to confirm the current theory that energetic feathers are triggered by moist convection at the base of water clouds that are deep in the atmosphere, which carry ammonia gas from high to high in the atmosphere the sea level main ammonia cloud cover. "


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