Pictures from NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it orbits Jupiter are unrivalled for the close-up views they provide, but the Hubble Space Telescope still manages to amaze thanks to its perch high above Earth’s discernible atmosphere. As part of a project to study changes in the atmospheres of the outer planets, Hubble took this remarkable shot of Jupiter on 27 June, at a distance of 644 million kilometres (400 million miles), revealing more intense colours than seen in previous years.
“Among the most striking features in the image are the rich colours of the clouds moving toward the Great Red Spot, a storm rolling counterclockwise between two bands of clouds,” the Hubble project said in a release. “These two cloud bands, above and below the Great Red Spot, are moving in opposite directions. The red band above and to the right (northeast) of the Great Red Spot contains clouds moving westward and around the north of the giant tempest. The white clouds to the left (southwest) of the storm are moving eastward to the south of the spot.”
The above video, based on Hubble data, shows a full rotation of Jupiter (credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), L. Hustak (STScI).
The Great Red Spot has a diameter slightly larger than Earth’s. It is shaped like a wedding cake with an upper haze layer that stretches more than 5 kilometres (3 miles) higher than surrounding clouds. The filaments seen swirling around the huge storm are high-altitude clouds being pulled into and around it.
An interesting detail in the Hubble image is the bright orange appearance of the wide equatorial cloud band. Researchers say the colour could be an indication that deeper clouds are starting to thin out, emphasising red material in the higher-altitude haze.
The image, using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, was captured as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy program, or OPAL.