While our species tends to assume that we’ve already uncovered most of the significant knowledge about the planets in our solar system, a recent revelation courtesy of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) underscores that we are far from comprehending the full extent of our celestial neighbors.
Jupiter, a colossal gas giant that we first observed through telescopes in 1610, is the largest planet in our solar system. This turbulent world is so massive that even one of the storms churning in its atmosphere, known as the Great Red Spot, dwarfs Earth.
Astronomers have been studying Jupiter since the inception of celestial observation. Over the years, we’ve learned that Jupiter is located 5.2 astronomical units from the Sun (more than five times the distance between Earth and the Sun), that a single day on Jupiter lasts the equivalent of ten Earth years, and that a Jupiter year equals 12 Earth years. Jupiter boasts a minimum of 95 moons but lacks a solid surface, with its composition primarily consisting of clouds of ammonia, hydrogen, and helium. These clouds create a turbulent weather system that scientists have been scrutinizing for decades.
Yet, there’s still so much we don’t know about this giant planet. Recently, a “never-before-seen feature” came to light through the analysis of James Webb Space Telescope data. This powerful telescope observed Jupiter in the summer of the previous year and unveiled that previously perceived blurry hazes are, in fact, jet streams.
One such jet stream, situated approximately 25 miles (40 km) above Jupiter’s clouds, spans an impressive width of 3,000 miles (4,800 km) along the planet’s equator. Within this region, winds blow at speeds of around 320 mph (515 kph), which is twice as fast as a Category 5 hurricane on Earth.
Ricardo Hueso from the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, expressed his surprise, saying, “This is something that totally surprised us. What we have always seen as blurred hazes in Jupiter’s atmosphere now appear as crisp features that we can track along with the planet’s fast rotation.”
While Hueso and his team published their findings in Nature, they emphasize that additional observations are necessary to determine whether the jet’s speed and altitude change over time, as they expect within Jupiter’s complex weather system.
The James Webb Space Telescope continues to provide groundbreaking insights into the celestial realm, opening doors to discoveries that have long remained beyond our reach. The vast amount of data it returns is awe-inspiring, but it can sometimes take a while for human observers to process these findings.
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