Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 24 2010 7:00 AM

Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity

The line between amateur and professional astronomer has always been thin. I know professionals who have no idea how to use a telescopes (theoreticians, usually*), and amateurs who know every nebula in the sky and take pictures of them indistinguishable from those taken at big observatories.

Case in point: Damian Peach, who, in September, traveled to Barbados to observe Jupiter. It was around then that the dance of their orbits brought our two planets as close as they get, so Jupiter appears larger through a telescope. Damian also went to Barbados because Jupiter would be very high up in the sky, minimizing atmospheric disturbance.

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!  

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Was it worth it? See for yourself. Using his observations, he made this video of Jupiter rotating over the course of several hours (make sure you set the resolution to 480 to see everything there):


Holy Zeus!

That is just about the finest imagery of Jupiter from the ground I have ever seen! Look at the detail: the Great Red Spot, the string of brownish storms just above and trailing behind it, the white ovals, the whorls and streamers of air separating the horizontal banding. It's breathtaking. And there's this overwhelming three-dimensionality to it, a powerful sense that this is a giant planet. It's simply stunning.

To get this phenomenal animation, Damian used a trick well-known among astrophotographers now, too: video cameras take very short exposures, which essentially freezes out the microturbulence in the Earth's air, preserving the finest detail that is otherwise smeared out. By looking at individual still frames you can pick the ones that are the best, then string them together to make a video like the one above.

Here's an individual image Damian took of Jupiter:


[Click to enjovianate.]

Wow! See those two moons? The one on the upper right is Ganymede, and on the lower left is Io. You can clearly see surface details on them! That's amazing. When I was younger, astronomers would've dreamed of getting pictures like this from the ground. Now, with good equipment, it's possible for anyone to do it.... if they put in the time and effort, and have patience. I strongly urge you to check out Damian's other Jupiter shots, as well as all his astrophotography.

Tip o' the dew shield to Max Alexander.



* Not that there's anything wrong with that: I'm terrible at vector calculus, so we all have our cross-product to bear.


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