In July 2022, the Webb Space Telescope spotted an intense beam shooting across the equator of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. The jet flies at a speed of about 320 miles per hour (515 kilometers per hour) and has an altitude of about 25 miles (40 km), which is equivalent to Jupiter’s lower stratosphere.
Astronomers knew there were east-west jets in the gas giant’s atmosphere, but analysis of the newly discovered, fast-moving jet suggested that Jupiter’s gaseous interior may be more dynamic than previously thought. The team’s research studying the jet is published in natural astronomy.
Webb Space Telescope launched from French Guiana in December 2021; After a months-long commissioning process, it has been carrying out scientific observations of the cosmos since July 2022. You can see some of Webb’s most vivid and insightful images since the beginning of his scientific campaign Here.
Webb’s piercing infrared vision can detect ancient light, dating back billions of years of cosmic evolution. But that hasn’t made it alien to our immediate neighbors in the solar system; The Space observatory pictured the glowing northern lights at the poles of Jupiter were captured in August 2022 and this year the rings around Uranus And Saturn.
Recent images of Jupiter showing the jet stream were taken with Webb’s near-infrared camera and showed that parts of Jupiter’s atmosphere were disturbed by the movement of the jet stream. The jet could be tracked in the image thanks to visible wind shears – places where wind speeds in the planet’s atmosphere changed depending on altitude and distance. The NIRCam image contains several excerpts that highlight regions of Jupiter’s equatorial zone with features caused by the jet.
According to the researchers, the discovery of the jet near Jupiter’s tropopause – the region at the edge of its troposphere – suggests that the planet’s atmospheric circulation around its equator is more similar to that of Saturn than previously known.
While Webb can only reveal aspects of Jupiter’s physics from a distance, upcoming missions will take an up-close and personal look at the world. The ESAs Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer or JUICEwill observe the gas giant as well as its moons Callisto, Europa and Ganymede, ocean-faring satellites that astrobiologists believe it could be Breeding grounds for extraterrestrial life. NASA’s Juno spacecraft is already in the Jupiter system, where it was Illustration of the planet and its satellites for years, but the space agency will launch it Europa Clipper mission to specifically examine this icy moon in 2024.
The Europa Clipper will not reach the Jupiter system until 2030 and JUICE will arrive in 2031. So until then, we’ll have to make do with Webb’s admittedly great long-distance shots.
More: What you should know about the JUICE mission to Jupiter and its frozen moons