Jupiter, looking sharp

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 2 2008 4:00 PM

Jupiter, looking sharp

ESO observation of Jupiter
Jupiter, looking sharp and hot
This weird-looking image is the sharpest picture of Jupiter ever taken from the ground. Taken with a device called -- are you ready for this? -- the Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics Demonstrator (or MAD, in an acronymic stretch), it has a resolution better than Hubble's!

The Earth's atmosphere roils and waves, distorting ground-based views of the sky. That's one of the reasons we launch telescopes into space, to get above all that mess. But if you can observe a point-like object such as a star at the same time you observe your target object, it's possible to compensate for the distortion by taking extremely rapid fire snapshots and measuring the way the star image changes. You then apply a correction to the image, and presto! It's cleaner. However, you can only do this for the area near the star. Distortions change across a telescope's field of view, making this technique somewhat limited.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Advertisement

That sort of tech has been around a while. The European Southern Observatory's MAD is a big advance, though, in that it can use multiple test objects instead of just one. That means it can measure the atmospheric nastiness across a much larger area of the sky, allowing images of Jupiter like this one to be taken, where the entire planet enjoys a nice thorough cleaning.

Moreover, the astronomers making the observation were able to keep it together for two hours, so they made a way cool movie of Jupiter's rotation.

The image colors are odd because this is an infrared picture. The telescope and detector observed Jupiter at wavelengths of about 2 microns, about three times redder than the human eye can see. At those wavelengths, hydrogen and methane are strong absorbers, meaning they block the light coming from deep down in Jupiter's atmosphere. What you're seeing here is light reflecting off of high haze, above the clouds we see in the usual jovian vistas.

See the bluish stuff at the poles? That's probably made up of haze particles even higher in the atmosphere, where they can interact with Jupiter's magnetic fields, causing them to emit more infrared light at shorter wavelengths.

Using this new method, scientists can track all sorts of weather on Jupiter better than they could before. That means we'll understand weather in general better, which is one reason why we study other planets: we learn more about the Earth.

But we also do it because, after all, we love this stuff!

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 4:33 PM Walmart Is Killing the Rest of Corporate America in Solar Power Adoption
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.