Storm clouds rooted in Jupiter’s atmosphere are affecting the planet’s white zones and colorful belts, creating disturbances of their flow and even changing their color.
Due to coordinated observations of the planet in January 2017 by six ground-based optical and radio telescopes and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope – A University of California, Berkeley, astronomer and her co-workers have been able to trace the effects of those storms—seen as bright plumes above the planet’s ammonia icy clouds—on the belts in which they appear.
The observations will finally help planetary scientists understand the complicated atmospheric dynamics on Jupiter, which, with its Great Red Spot and colorful, cake layer like bands, make it one of the loveliest and changeable of the giant gas planets within the solar system.
One such plume was seen by newbie astronomer Phil Miles in Australia a few days earlier than the first observations by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, and pictures captured per week later by Hubble showed that the plume had spawned a second plume and left a downstream interference in the band of clouds, the South Equatorial Belt. The rising plumes then mixed with Jupiter’s powerful winds, which expanded the clouds east and west from their point of origin.
Three months earlier, four bright spots had been seen scarcely north of the North Equatorial Belt. Though these plumes had passed by 2017, the belt had since widened northward, and its north edge had changed color from whitish to orangish brown.
“If these plumes are dynamic and proceed to have convective events, they might disrupt one of these complete bands over time, though it may take a few months,” stated study leader Imke de Pater, a UC Berkeley professor emerita of astronomy. “With these observations, we see one plume in advance and the aftereffects of the others.”