New photos snapped by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured Jupiter’s breathtaking bands and immense storms before the giant planet comes into so-called opposition this Friday.
The photos came in April 3, Monday, or four days before Jupiter is in opposition or forming a straight line with Earth and the sun, with Earth in the middle. Opposition also marks the gas giant’s closest approach to our planet at only 415 million miles away, and when it appears brighter in the night sky than at any other time of the year.
Jupiter gets around 601 million miles from Earth at its most farthest.
Astounding Hubble Photos
Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 captured the images, which photographed details in Jupiter’s atmosphere that were as small as 80 miles across. This enabled the planet’s colorful bands and other exquisite features to become visible.
With such powerful storms along with hundreds of smaller vortices, Jupiter’s atmosphere is divided into a number of distinct colorful bands.
“These bands, with alternating wind motions, are created by differences in the thickness and height of the ammonia ice clouds; the lighter bands rise higher and have thicker clouds than the darker bands,” NASA reported in a statement, adding that the bands are separated by winds reaching up to 400 miles per hour in speed.
Another standout feature is the Great Red Spot, a massive storm larger than Earth but has been gradually shrinking beginning the late 1800s for unknown reasons. According to NASA, Hubble will keep observing the planet to hunt for clues to this mysterious occurrence.
The images are part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy program (OPAL), which offers annual global views of outer planets to determine changes in their storms, clouds, and winds. It started with Uranus in 2014 and has been investigating Jupiter and Neptune since 2015. OPAL will include Saturn next year.
Opposition In Action On Friday
On April 7, Jupiter will come into opposition or at its closest approach to Earth, which occurs every 13 months. The next one is expected to happen in May next year.
Here, the planet will rise in the East at around sunset, and will then stay visible if the weather permits.
And one won’t need any special equipment to enjoy the visual feast, as binoculars would allow the massive planet along with its four largest moons — Callisto, Europa, Ganymede, and Io — to be seen in their natural glory. A basic telescope, too, can reveal the Great Red Spot.
Observing Jupiter for a number of consecutive nights and one may witness the moons change their relative positions, with each orbiting Jupiter at a varying speed.
"This changing pattern of moons is what allowed Galileo to discover the four Gallilean moons, each about the size of our own moon, a little over 400 years ago," explained astronomer Dr. Tyler Nordgren to NBC News.
A live stream of Jupiter and moon views will be made available starting 4:30 p.m. EDT on April 7 for those who cannot go outdoors or have cloudy skies in their area.
The latest Hubble data were taken at around the same period the Jupiter probe Juno made a close approach to the giant planet. And it’s no accident, as scientists seek to compare data that the two separate spacecraft obtained.
The Juno mission, collecting data through September 2021, is tasked to learn about the formation of Jupiter, whether it boasts of a core of heavy elements at the center, its water content, and what its interior is like.