Hubble spies Jupiter and its icy moon Europa

The Hubble Space Telescope has produced two images of Jupiter: one showing moon Europa and another in wavelengths invisible to the human eye.

A view of Jupiter and its moon Europa captured on 25 August 2020 by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.
A view of Jupiter and its moon Europa captured on 25 August 2020 by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit:
NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a beautiful new image of Jupiter and its moon Europa, taken when the gas giant was 653 million km from Earth.

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The new image, captured on 25 August 2020, is giving astronomers a fresh look at the tempestuous planet’s stormy atmosphere, including a new storm that appears to be brewing among the Jovian clouds.

Can you spot the white, elongated storm occurring at mid-northern latitudes on Jupiter’s disc? This single plume popped up on 18 August 2020 and was recorded as moving at 560 km per hour.

See more beautiful Hubble images:

Planetary scientists say this particular storm seems to have more structure behind it than previous storms observed in the region. Trailing it are a few dark clumps, which may be the early beginnings of a longer-lasting ‘spot’ in the northern hemisphere, much like the Great Red Spot that can be seen clearly in the southern hemisphere.

The Great Red Spot is Jupiter’s most striking feature, and one of the objects that makes the gas giant so visually iconic. Telescopic observations of the spot have been recorded since 1930, providing evidence that the storm is shrinking over time. Nevertheless, it currently measures 15,800 km across: large enough to swallow Earth whole!

To the left of Jupiter appears its moon Europa: an icy body thought to have a liquid ocean below its crust. Just like Saturn’s moon Enceladus, the presence of a liquid subsurface ocean makes it a prime target for search for signs of life.

And just like the Cassini mission at Saturn, which studied Enceladus, a new mission called Europa Clipper is primed to launch in the mid 2020s to do just that.

An ultraviolet/visible/near-infrared light view of Jupiter captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.
An ultraviolet/visible/near-infrared light view of Jupiter captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit:
NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.

The rainbow-coloured image of Jupiter you can see above is a multiwavelength observation in ultraviolet/visible/near-infrared light also carried out by the Hubble Space Telescope on 25 August 2020.

In the image, the parts of Jupiter’s atmosphere that appear red are at higher altitude (note how the planet’s poles are both red). This is a result of atmospheric particles absorbing ultraviolet light. Blue areas, on the other hand, represent ultraviolet light being reflected off the planet.

This unique view of Jupiter is giving astronomers the chance to look at the gas giant and its mysterious atmospheric features like never before.

Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.

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Release date 17 September 2020

Observatory Hubble Space Telescope

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Image credit NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.