On the left is the image from 2020, and on the right is the image from 2021. The 2020 Hubble OPAL image is on the left, and the 2021 image is on the. This isnt an OPAL image, however a composite image made up of 141 broad angle images, backlit by the Sun. The 2020 OPAL image of Neptune is on the left, and the 2021 OPAL image is on the. Keep in mind the little dark storm to the right of the Great Dark Spot in the 2020 image, which is entirely missing in the 2021 image.
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We wouldnt be making fantastic progress if we had to rely exclusively on spacecraft to learn about the outer planets. It takes a huge effort to get a spacecraft to the outer Solar System. But thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, we can keep tabs on the gas giants without leaving Earths orbit.
NASAs Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program keeps an eye on the external worlds to monitor changes in their atmospheres. Changes on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune occur on timescales of years and years– or longer– so Hubble checks in yearly to see how the gas/ice giants are doing. It gives scientists a long standard of data. Each year OPAL records images of the external planets, and OPAL is slated to continue up until either Hubble itself is no longer functional, or till Hubbles WFC3/UVIS video camera is no longer working.
Even people who dont follow astronomy carefully know that Jupiter is a huge ball of gas with a aesthetically stunning and ever-changing environment. (Dont they?) Jupiters Great Red Spot (GRS) even has its own Wikipedia page. This years Hubble picture of Jupiter puts the planets mesmerizing environment on complete display.
Jupiter as seen by Hubble on September 4th, 2021. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL group.
In this years image, the colour of the worlds equatorial zone captured the OPAL teams interest. It now has a deep orange hue which is unusual. The area is yellowish or usually white, and though its departed from that plan just recently, the deep orange is still a surprise.
Most of whats noticeable in the upper atmosphere is ammonia. Dark bands in Jupiters environment are called belts, while lighter bands are called zones. The zones are cooler than the belts and are associated with upwellings. Belts are coming down gas. The lighter colour of the zones is because of ammonia ice, while the reason for the darker belts doubts.
2 Hubble OPAL images of Jupiter. Left wing is the image from 2020, and on the right is the image from 2021. Note the little white area below the GRS in 2020 which is entered 2021. Also note the deepening orange shade of the equatorial zone, something that surprised researchers. The moon in the 2020 image is Europa. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.
The 2021 image reveals numerous extended reddish storm cells that researchers call “barges.” Theyre in fact cyclonic vortices, which implies theyre turning counterclockwise. There are likewise a number of smaller sized cyclonic storms south of the equator and the GRS.
This image is from OPAL 2015 and provides us a various take a look at Jupiter. It shows an unusual wave structure just north of the equatorial area. Image Credit: By ESA/Hubble, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44245006
No other planet has an atmosphere as aesthetically intriguing as Jupiter. Saturn has its gorgeous rings, and those rings have their own Wikipedia page, simply like Saturns GRS.
Hubbles makeover at Saturn on 12 September 2021 shows rapid and extreme colour modifications in the bands in the worlds northern hemisphere, where it is now early autumn. The bands have actually varied throughout Hubble observations in both 2019 and 2020. Hubbles Saturn image catches the world following the southern hemispheres winter season, obvious in the lingering blue-ish color of the south pole.
Not as noticable as Jupiters, Saturns bands are likewise ever-changing and not completely understood. Not clear in OPAL images, Saturn also hosts a long-lasting hexagonal shaped storm at its north pole.
The 2020 Hubble OPAL image is on the left, and the 2021 image is on the right. The OPAL group bore in mind of the quick and severe color modifications in the northern hemisphere, which are triggered by hydrocarbons in the atmosphere and increased summer heating. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.
Saturns rings feature plainly in every image of Saturn. In 1655, Christian Huygens was the very first to determine them as a disk surrounding the world. Theyre largely made from water ice, varying in size from small grains to stones. The specific system that formed them is not completely understood, and astronomers are likewise uncertain of their age. Some proof recommends theyre from the Solar Systems early days, while information from Cassini suggests theyre fairly young, between 10 million and 100 million years of ages.
This isnt an OPAL image, however a composite image comprised of 141 large angle images, backlit by the Sun. The tiny dim dot at 4 oclock is Earth. Image Credit: By NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ Space Science Institute– http://www.ciclops.org/view/7699/The-Day-the-Earth-Smiled (also http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA17172), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29592312.
Uranus is an awfully long ways away and Hubble images arent as sharp as they are for Jupiter and Saturn. Unlike Jupiter and Saturn, which are gas giants, Uranus (and Neptune) are ice giants. Its still possible to track changes in the worlds upper environment.
Hubbles 25 October view of Uranus puts the worlds bright northern polar hood in the spotlight. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.
This image catches spring in Uranus northern hemisphere. Researchers believe that increased UV radiation from the Sun is brightening the polar area, though theyre not exactly certain why. The ice giants have more methane than the gas giants, and the increased UV might be making the methane more opaque. Or there might be something else happening with aerosol particles in the environment.
One thing is constant over the last a number of years of OPAL observations. Even as the climatic hood brightens, the sharp southernmost border remains at the exact same latitude. Its possible that a jetstream enforces that barrier.
Uranus is a strange world since it rotates at a nearly 90 degree angle relative to its orbit around the Sun. Uranus, unlike other planets, has a nearly circular orbit around the Sun, so its seasons are completely due to the worlds tilt.
Really, its not one dark spot, however a repeating series of storms that disappears and reforms every couple of years. Contrast that with Jupiters GRS, which has been around for hundreds of years.
This Hubble image was taken on September 7th 2021 as part of the OPAL program. The dark area shows up, and so is another elongated dark circle on the south pole. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.
The OPAL team has actually been seeing Neptunes dark area for years now. Previous images showed the dark area, which is a storm the size of the Atlantic Ocean, moving south toward particular destruction. Then in 2020, the OPAL image showed the area reversing course northward. The Hubble has watched storms dissipate and form on Neptune for 30 years, but its never ever seen this before. This is the 4th dark area storm that Hubble has seen given that 1993, and all prior storms followed a more-or-less straight path to the equator, where they dissipated.
The 2020 OPAL picture of Neptune is on the left, and the 2021 OPAL image is on the right. Note the small dark storm to the right of the Great Dark Spot in the 2020 image, which is entirely missing in the 2021 image. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL group.
Like its sister Uranus, Neptune is also an ice giant rather than a gas giant. The higher portion of methane in the atmosphere offers it its blue look.