Gemini telescope aids Juno mission’s exploration of Jupiter

Jupiter in infrared

The Great Red Spot stands our as a bright white oval in this composite color infrared image of Jupiter. Image by Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF/JPL-Caltech/NASA.

As NASA’s Juno spacecraft loops around Jupiter, the Earth-bound Gemini North telescope is providing high-resolution images to help guide its exploration of the giant planet.

Using adaptive optics that removes atmospheric blur, astronomers at the telescope on Maunakea in Hawaii are revealing “a treasure-trove of fascinating events in Jupiter’s atmosphere,” said Glenn Orton, the principal investigator for this Gemini adaptive optics investigation and coordinator for Earth-based observations supporting the Juno project at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The observations have now produced a composite color infrared image (above) of Jupiter showing haze particles over a range of altitudes, as seen in reflected sunlight.

Jupiter as it appears at longer infrared wavelengths

Berkeley’s Michael Wong obtained images of Jupiter at longer infrared wavelengths, where it glows with thermal (heat) emission. In dark areas of this Gemini North image, thick clouds block the emission from the deeper atmosphere. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF/UC Berkeley

In addition to images using adaptive optics, UC Berkeley’s Michael Wong is using a longer-wavelength filter on the telescope to look at cloud opacity on the planet.

“These observations trace vertical flows that cannot be measured any other way, illuminating the weather, climate and general circulation in Jupiter’s atmosphere,” Wong said.

“Events like this show that there’s still much to learn about Jupiter’s atmosphere,” Orton said. “The combination of Earth-based and spacecraft observations is a powerful one-two punch in exploring Jupiter.”

Striking Gemini Images Point Juno Spacecraft Toward Discovery