Stunning ‘lucky’ image of Jupiter taken in infrared turns the gas giant into a ‘jack-o-lantern’ and reveals how the planet’s tumultuous atmosphere creates 50-mile thick lightning storms

  • Images were taken in infrared and stitched together to reveal a ‘jack-o-lantern’ appearance of the gas giant 
  • It is a mosaic formed from three years’ worth of ‘lucky images’ taken by the Gemini telescope in Hawaii
  • Bright areas are bereft of cloud cover while dark patches re where no infrared radiation escaped the clouds  
  • Revealed lightning storms on Jupiter are generated in ‘convective cells’ which produce vast plumes of moist air and form above deep clouds of water, both frozen and liquid.

An incredible photograph of Jupiter taken by astronomers has been revealed which highlights the viscous storms that dominate the enormous planet’s thick atmosphere. 

It is a mosaic formed from three years’ worth of ‘lucky images’ taken by the Gemini telescope in Hawaii and is one of the clearest photos of Jupiter ever taken from Earth.

Images were taken in infrared and stitched together to reveal a ‘jack-o-lantern’ appearance of the gas giant.

The brightest sections are the ones bereft of cloud cover while the dark regions are where no infrared radiation can be seen due to dense cloud cover.  

The researchers used a method called ‘lucky imaging’ when creating the photo, which involves taking hundreds of photos and only using the one that is clearest and minimally impacted by Earth’s atmosphere. 

The study which created the remarkable image reveals lightning storms on Jupiter are generated in ‘convective cells’ which produce vast plumes of moist air and form above deep clouds of water, both frozen and liquid.  

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An incredible photograph of Jupiter taken by astronomers has been revealed which highlights the viscous storms that dominate the enormous planet’s thick atmosphere. It is a mosaic formed from three years’ worth of ‘lucky images’ taken by the Gemini telescope in Hawaii (pictured)

The images included in the mosaic were cherry picked to highlight each region at its most violent. 

For example, each section of the planet would be imaged hundreds of times, but only the image where the surface is most turbulent made it into the final image. 

Gemini, located in Hawaii away from as much light pollution as possible, takes infrared measurements using a tool called Gemini North’s Near Infrared Imager (NIRI). 

Infrared is a wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum with a slightly longer wavelength than that of visible light. Infrared is emitted by Jupiter and is able to escape the planet’s dense clouds. 

Visible light, which has a shorter wavelength, can not escape the Jupiter’s cloaking cloud and infrared allows astronomers to gaze deeper into the planet than is possible with the naked ye or other telescopes.

This can be useful in tracking the deep movements of Jupiter’s atmosphere and a study led by the University of California at Berkeley used it to learn more about Jupiter’s weather patterns and, specifically, its epic storms. 

Astronomers combined the infrared images taken by Gemini with visible light images from Juno, which orbits Jupiter, and Hubble, which remains in a fixed location in space.  

‘The Gemini data were critical because they allowed us to probe deeply into Jupiter’s clouds on a regular schedule,’ said Michael Wong of UC Berkeley.  

‘These images rival the view from space.’

Juno, which was launched in 2011, orbits Jupiter and identified unusual flurries of activities. This was relayed back to scientists running observations at Hubble and Gemini who focused their lens on the planet whenever possible. 

They focused on gathering high-resolution, wide-area maps of the giant planet.

Juno provided detailed information on the location of powerful lightning flashes called sferics or whistlers in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates. 

Gemini would then assess this region in infrared light while Hubble did the same thing in visible light. 

This process and cooperation allowed scientists to discover the origin of Jupiter’s lightning strikes which can be up to three times more energetic than Earth’s as well as some of Jupiter’s very largest storms, measuring up to 40 miles from base to top. 

The team found that the lightning strikes are generated in ‘convective cells’ which produce vast plumes of moist air. 

They develop over deep clouds of water, both frozen and liquid.  

‘Scientists track lightning because it is a marker of convection, the turbulent mixing process that transports Jupiter’s internal heat up to the visible cloud tops,’ explained Wong. 

‘Ongoing studies of lightning sources will help us understand how convection on Jupiter is different from or similar to convection in the Earth’s atmosphere.’

How NASA’s Juno probe to Jupiter will reveal the secrets of the solar system’s biggest planet

The Juno probe reached Jupiter in 2016 after a five-year, 1.8 billion-mile journey from Earth

The Juno probe reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five-year, 1.8 billion-mile (2.8bn km) journey from Earth.

Following a successful braking manoeuvre, it entered into a long polar orbit flying to within 3,100 miles (5,000 km) of the planet’s swirling cloud tops.

The probe skimmed to within just 2,600 miles (4,200 km) of the planet’s clouds once a fortnight – too close to provide global coverage in a single image.

No previous spacecraft has orbited so close to Jupiter, although two others have been sent plunging to their destruction through its atmosphere.

To complete its risky mission Juno survived a circuit-frying radiation storm generated by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field.

The maelstrom of high energy particles travelling at nearly the speed of light is the harshest radiation environment in the Solar System.

To cope with the conditions, the spacecraft was protected with special radiation-hardened wiring and sensor shielding.

Its all-important ‘brain’ – the spacecraft’s flight computer – was housed in an armoured vault made of titanium and weighing almost 400 pounds (172kg).

The craft is expected to study the composition of the planet’s atmosphere until 2021. 

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