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Scientists Peek At Jupiter's Great Red Spot To Find Water

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The search of water on Jupiter has made a major step forward in a recent study that observed its persistent storm, the Great Red Spot.

By looking at thermal radiation leaking out of the depths of the crimson anticyclone using ground-based telescopes, researchers detected chemical signatures of water.  

Water On Jupiter

Scientists have long suspected that there is water on Jupiter. Chemically, the gentle giant is the closest relative of the Sun, but it also has more oxygen in its atmosphere, making water a huge possibility.

By combining the pressure of the water and the measurements of carbon dioxide, scientists estimate that there is up to nine times more oxygen than the Sun.

Astrophysicist Gordon L. Bjoraker of NASA's Goddard Space Flight said that the discovery was a lucky feat. He and his team were worried that the experiment would fail because the Great Red Spot is made up of dense clouds, making it difficult to see any clues about its chemistry.

"It turns out they're not so thick that they block our ability to see deeply," explained Bjoraker. "That's been a pleasant surprise."

The experiment also revealed that there are three distinct layers of clouds at different depths: ammonia clouds sit at the top layer of the planet's atmosphere, ammonium-hydrogen sulfide clouds can be found much deeper, and then water clouds, which are both liquid and ice, hiding much deeper.

Scientists hope to supplement the new data to the information collected by NASA's Juno. The spacecraft is also searching for water on Jupiter using an infrared spectrometer and microwave radiometer. It circles the planet from north to south once every 53 years.

If Juno finds similar data, the process can be used in the search for water in other planets like Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune.

Implications Of The Study

The presence of water on the planet also adds to the mounting evidence that Jupiter has a core made of rock and ice. A popular theory claims that the giant planet was the first planet to be formed in the solar system.

After the Sun came into existence, Jupiter siphoned all its remaining elements. Thus, many believe that Jupiter, like the Sun, is all gas and no core.

However, the recent discovery adds to the mounting evidence that the planet does have a core that might be 10 times of the Earth's core. Previous visits to Jupiter found chemical evidence that a core made up of rock and ice was formed before it mixed with the gases from the solar nebula.

The researchers' next mission is to examine other parts of the planet to create a full picture of the abundance of water on Jupiter.

"Jupiter's water abundance will tell us a lot about how the giant planet formed, but only if we can figure out how much water there is in the entire planet," stated Steven M. Leven, a scientist working on the Juno project at NASA.

The discovery was published in The Astronomical Journal on Aug. 17.

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