Scientists were excited to watch an energetic eruption on Jupiter by peering 30 miles under the clouds that covered the planet. Said observations “provide a crucial, hitherto missing, link” in theories about the hidden dynamics that make Jupiter so special according to a new study.
Jupiter’s captivating storms and colorful ribbons of gas make it one of the most popular objects in space but below its ammonia-ice clouds, scientists need to use radio wave observatories much like Chile’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA.)
Scientists led by Imke de Pater, a UC Berkeley professor emerita of astronomy, used ALMA to check out a small bright white plume in Jupiter’s Southern Equatorial Belt that has been detected by amateur astronomer Phil Miles back in early January 2017.
The plumes or eruptions, are assumed to be intense storms breaking out below the cloud deck, which can generate lighting like thunderstorms on Earth.
“ALMA enabled us to make a three-dimensional map of the distribution of ammonia gas below the clouds,” de Pater said in a statement. “And for the first time, we were able to study the atmosphere below the ammonia cloud layers after an energetic eruption on Jupiter.”
The plume then spilled over the cloud tops of Jupiter, bringing ammonia from the lower layers with it. It then evolved into a “large-scale disruption” that was observed by Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Telescope in Chile, and several telescopes in Hawai’i, de Pater’s team in a forthcoming study in the Astronomical Journal.
The multi-wavelength view of the eruption then yielded support for what is known as the “most convection theory,” which suggests that these plumes originate in a water layer located 50 miles below Jupiter’s surface clouds. And while liquid water condenses in this region, it then emits heat that carries plumes of ammonia to the top cloud layer.
“Our ALMA observations are the first to show that high concentrations of ammonia gas are brought up during an energetic eruption,” de Pater said. “The combination of observations simultaneously at many different wavelengths enabled us to examine the eruption in detail.”