Gemini North captures ‘lucky’ shot of Jupiter in all its infrared glory

Using a technique known as “lucky imaging,” astronomers have pieced together some of the highest resolution images of Jupiter ever captured from the ground, assembling a spectacular infrared view of the giant planet’s turbulent atmosphere. The jack ‘o lantern-like view was compiled from a mosaic of nine different observations sessions using the 8.1-metre Gemini North telescope atop Maunakea, Hawaii. Thirty eight exposures from each session were winnowed down to the sharpest 10 percent, which were then combined to form an image of one-ninth of the planet’s disc. The sharpest exposures from all nine observation sessions then were assembled into a global mosaic.

Jupiter, as imaged at infrared wavelengths by the 8.1-metre Gemini North telescope. Image: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley) and team; Acknowledgments: Mahdi Zamani.

The image below illustrates how lucky imaging works. Turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere blurs some short-exposure images (left), but as conditions above the telescope constantly change, clear, sharply focused images are captured as well (right). By taking hundreds of images over the course of an observing run, astronomers can select the best and assemble them into a mosaic like the one seen here.

Image: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley) and team; Acknowledgments: Mahdi Zamani

The Gemini North observations, carried out in concert with the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Juno orbiter, are providing new insights into storm formation in Jupiter’s atmosphere, revealing that lightning strikes and the storms that generate them form around huge convective cells above deep clouds of water ice and liquid. “The Gemini data were critical because they allowed us to probe deeply into Jupiter’s clouds on a regular schedule,” said Michael Wong, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. “These images rival the view from space.”