Jupiter comes under gaze of exoplanet hunter

Jupiter: Large planet with banded and spotted atmosphere, on black background.
View bigger. | NASA’s Juno spacecraft took this gorgeous picture of Jupiter (a composite of three pictures) on February 12, 2019. Now, for the first time, astronomers have used the ESPRESSO instrument on the Very Massive Telescope (VLT) to review Jupiter’s environment. Picture through NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ SwRI/ MSSS/ Kevin M. Gill.

Jupiter is known for its storms, particularly the Nice Pink Spot. As the biggest fuel large planet in our photo voltaic system, Jupiter has an atmospheric tapestry of swirling clouds. On December 21, 2023, researchers on the Institute of Astrophysics and House Sciences in Portugal stated that they investigated Jupiter’s environment and winds utilizing the ESPRESSO spectrograph on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Massive Telescope (VLT) in Chile. ESPRESSO’s major mission is to search out and research exoplanets many light-years away. So, it was the primary time astronomers have used such a software to look at Jupiter.

The researchers revealed their peer-reviewed paper on November 24, 2023, within the journal Universe.

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ESPRESSO observes Jupiter

ESPRESSO searches for and characterizes exoplanets orbiting different stars, rocky planets specifically. Nevertheless, astronomers can even use it to review planets in our personal photo voltaic system. And that’s simply what they did for 5 hours in July 2019. The researchers pointed the Very Massive Telescope (VLT) at Jupiter. Extra particularly, they centered on the equatorial area of the planet, the place there are mild clouds at excessive altitude. As well as, the telescope additionally regarded on the north and south equatorial belts of the planet. Lead creator Pedro Machado, from the Institute of Astrophysics and House Sciences and the College of Lisbon, stated:

Jupiter’s environment, on the stage of the clouds seen from Earth, incorporates ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide and water, which type the distinct pink and white bands.

The higher clouds, positioned within the stress zone of 0.6 to 0.9 bars, are fabricated from ammonia ice. Water clouds type the densest, lowest layer, and have the strongest affect on the dynamics of the environment.

The analysis group developed a brand new approach referred to as Doppler velocimetry. It measures the quantity of seen mild mirrored off the clouds in a planet’s environment. Basically, the wavelength of the sunshine is bent in proportion to the velocity the clouds are shifting, relative to the observing telescope. Astronomers can then calculate the wind velocity at that second. ESPRESSO measured winds on Jupiter starting from 37 to 266 miles per hour (60 to 428 km/h), with an uncertainty of lower than 22 miles per hour (35 km/h). The paper said:

We current a brand new research of Jupiter’s environment dynamics utilizing for the primary time the extraordinarily high-resolution capabilities of VLT/ESPRESSO to retrieve wind velocities in Jupiter’s troposphere, with a devoted ground-based Doppler velocimetry technique. This work is primarily a proof-of-concept for retrieving Jupiter’s winds utilizing VLT/ESPRESSO Doppler velocities.

Difficult observations

Though the Jovian observations are a lot nearer than these of exoplanets, they’ll nonetheless be difficult. For instance, one difficulty was because of the telescope having such excessive decision. As Machado famous:

One of many difficulties centered on ‘navigation’ over Jupiter’s disk, that’s, understanding precisely which level on the planet’s disk we have been pointing to, because of the monumental decision of the VLT telescope.

Within the investigation itself, the issue was associated to the truth that we have been figuring out winds with an accuracy of some meters per second when Jupiter’s rotation is on the order of ten kilometers per second [six miles per second] on the equator and, to complicate issues, as a result of it’s a gaseous planet, and never a inflexible physique, it rotates at totally different speeds relying on the latitude of the purpose we observe.

The researchers additionally in contrast the brand new knowledge to earlier observations – most of which have been executed in area – to assist confirm its accuracy.

4 square-ish buildings with cobblestone pavement in front, under a dark twilight sky.
View bigger. | The 4 telescopes of the Very Massive Telescope (VLT) facility within the Atacama Desert, Chile. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) operates these telescopes. Picture through ESO/ H.H. Heyer/ Wikimedia Commons.

A serving to hand from Cassini

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft performed a task within the new Jupiter research, though it was a Saturn mission. The researchers used pictures it took when it handed by Jupiter in December 2000. That knowledge can be per the brand new observations from the VLT and ESPRESSO, additional validating them. The paper stated:

These outcomes are complemented by a re-analysis of Cassini’s knowledge from its fly-by of Jupiter in December 2000, performing cloud monitoring at seen wavelengths, for cross comparability with Doppler velocimetry outcomes, together with earlier cloud-tracking outcomes.

Continued monitoring of Jupiter

General, the optimistic outcomes present that Doppler velocimetry can certainly be used to watch winds on Jupiter utilizing Earth-based telescopes. Astronomers wish to see how the winds change over time. Then, they’ll construct a mannequin of the worldwide circulation of the whole environment.

All it will assist scientists higher perceive how Jupiter’s deep, turbulent environment behaves. It’s a posh system, with storms bigger than Earth, fast-moving atmospheric belts, lightning and auroras.

The researchers on the Institute of Astrophysics and House Sciences will proceed utilizing ESPRESSO and the VLT. By doing so, they’ll observe extra of Jupiter’s complete environment, measure winds at totally different altitudes and gather wind knowledge for a complete rotation interval. Jupiter takes about 10 hours to finish one rotation on its axis.

Later, the identical approach can be utilized for different large planets as nicely, like Saturn. And that, in flip, will assist scientists study extra about exoplanets, too. So ESPRESSO can proceed its exoplanet mission, even when its gaze is typically turned again onto our personal planetary neighbors.

Backside line: For the primary time, astronomers have used an instrument designed to review exoplanets – ESPRESSO, on the Very Massive Telescope – to watch the planet Jupiter.

Supply: Jupiter’s Environment Dynamics Primarily based on Excessive-Decision Spectroscopy with VLT/ESPRESSO

Through Institute of Astrophysics and House Sciences

Learn extra: Jupiter as you’ve by no means seen it. Thanks, Hubble!

Learn extra: Jupiter’s Nice Pink Spot is shrinking! See images


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