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The planet Jupiter is known for its famous massive super-storm that swirls amongst its gaseous atmosphere, better known as the Great Red Spot. Even though it's been observed for centuries, little is known about its inner workings.
Now, a combination of two telescopes and a spacecraft has opened up the world of the Great Red Spot to astronomers who have been able to peer inside it with unmatched clarity, showing it has holes.
The study was published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.
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Telescope and spacecraft imaging
The ultraviolet and infrared light images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, the Gemini Observatory, and the spacecraft Juno are a combination of three years' worth of observations of the Great Red Spot, otherwise known as the biggest storm in the solar system.
"We want to know how Jupiter's atmosphere works," said Michael Wong, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley and first author on the paper. "This is where the teamwork of Juno, Hubble, and Gemini comes into play."
The Hawai'i-based Gemini Observatory was able to gather some of the highest resolution infrared images taken by a ground-based telescope to date, by using a system called "lucky imaging". Ground-based telescopes' images can sometimes be blurred due to atmospheric changes, but lucky imaging can snap up brief moments when these changes are minimal.
The final results of lucky imaging are snapshots of unparalleled clarity, only rivaling those from space telescopes.
As per Wong, these images show the Spot looking "kind of like a jack-o-lantern" in infrared light.
Hubble had observed the region numerous times and had noticed a dark black band against the deep reds formed by the storm, which left astronomers perplexed. Combining Hubble's views and pointing Gemini at the Spot, the researchers could finally see that these were holes, and not different types of clouds as was previously believed. Hence the jack-o-lantern analogy.
"These coordinated observations prove once again that ground-breaking astronomy is made possible by combining the capabilities of the Gemini telescopes with complimentary ground- and space-based facilities," explained Martin Still, an astronomy program director at the National Science Foundation, which funds Gemini's operation.