Stories tagged Jupiter

Scratched and dented: This infrared image of Jupiter shows the impact site where something hit the planet last week.
Scratched and dented: This infrared image of Jupiter shows the impact site where something hit the planet last week.Courtesy NASA
It's tough being the big guy on the block. Last week Jupiter got nicked by something flying through space. And an amateur astronomer discovered it. Read more about it here!


Moon and planets #1
Moon and planets #1Courtesy Mark Ryan
When I was a kid I remember my dad would like to point out that the word "syzygy" was one of very few multi-syllabic words that didn't contain any of the "normal" vowels. Moon and planets #2
Moon and planets #2Courtesy Mark Ryan
The definition in an astronomical sense is when three or more celestial bodies in the same gravitational system line up in essentially a straight line. One example would be the Sun, Moon, and Earth during an eclipse. Another may be the phenomenon that was visible in the western sky just after dusk today. Moon and planets #3
Moon and planets #3Courtesy Makr Ryan
Here are four photographs I shot of the alignment of the Moon with the planets Jupiter and Venus. I don't know if the celestial alignment is technically a syzgy but the word has stuck with me and I'm still waiting to use it in a game of Scrabble.

Moon and planets #4
Moon and planets #4Courtesy Mark Ryan
PLEASE NOTE: From my vantage point the event was happening right in a flight path for the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport so aircraft kept flying through the frame. That's what all the streaks and extra lights in the photos are. The exposures were long, ranging between 6 and 15 seconds, and I used a timer so as not to shake the camera during each exposure. Timing the shutter with the aircraft was tricky but I got a few good ones.

Two of the brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, appear very close together tonight. Tomorrow night (Dec 1) they will be joined by the crescent moon around 6 pm (CDT) to make an "unhappy face".

"This is set to be the best planetary gathering of the year, simply because it involves three of the brightest objects in the sky after the sun," said Geza Gyuk, director of astronomy at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. National Geographic.


Are we next?: No. Definitely not.
Are we next?: No. Definitely not.Courtesy NASA
Y’all know what “fratricide” is? It’s when a brother kills a brother. Or when a sister kills her brother. Or when a sister and a brother kill their brother. Any combination, really, involving a brother getting iced.

Well, it has happened on Jupiter. A little brother has been torn apart by his giant siblings. And by giant, I mean many times the size of earth.

The Great Red Spot is a huge hurricane-like storm on the surface of Jupiter. The storm has been spinning for several hundred years, and has a diameter about three times that of Earth. Also, it’s red.

The spot happens to have a couple of little brothers, too, named Red Spot Jr. (or Oval Ba, if you can’t get your head around having a little brother that’s your “Jr.”) and the Little Red Spot. Or, I should say, it had a couple of little brothers. Now it has a little brother, and some spare brother chunks. You see, Great Red Spot, and Red Spot Jr. tore Little Red Spot to shreds last week.

Officials are still baffled as to the motive, but what we know is this: LRS was strolling innocently through its neighborhood of Jupiter when it was ambushed from either side by GRS and RSJ. No weapons are thought to have been involved, ironically making the crime that much more brutal—the larger storms ripped their little brother apart with their own stormy hands, and when GRS and RSJ ran off, all that was left of LRS were sad little shreds.

The proximity of the incident has complicated investigation, to say the least, but I have my own theories. Red Spot Junior, as it happens, only recently earned its title—it was not until only two years ago that it actually turned red. I think that RSJ may have been long overdue to prove itself as a true red spot. Both intimidated and protected by its larger brother, RSJ was content to allow GRS to be the planet’s muscle. Over the months, however, I guess that RSJ’s desire to prove itself intensified, or that GRS tired of doing its little brother’s dirty work. Either way, the two larger spots turned their sites towards their small brother, always the “simplest” of the three. I think it’s very likely that GRS provided cover and just watched while RSJ did the butcher’s work, but the blood doesn’t stand out on its recently acquired coloring.

The red color of the spots, although no doubt symbolic of their bloodthirsty hearts, is not entirely understood. It’s thought that the color may come from material sucked from deep in the planet as the storms get stronger. Phosphorus-containing molecules, for instance would turn red when exposed to sunlight on the planet’s surface.

Astronomers the world over are reeling from the violent act.


See Spots spin: In recent years, Jupiter has picked up a couple new red spots. While the Great Red Spot (right) has raged for hundreds of years, newer smaller red  spots -- Red Spot, Jr., (middle) and "Baby Spot" (left) have emerged.
See Spots spin: In recent years, Jupiter has picked up a couple new red spots. While the Great Red Spot (right) has raged for hundreds of years, newer smaller red spots -- Red Spot, Jr., (middle) and "Baby Spot" (left) have emerged.Courtesy M. Wong and I. de Pater (University of California, Berkeley)
New images from the Hubble Telescope show that the Giant Planet has picked up a couple more red spots, smaller but very near to the Great Red Spot.

Images taken earlier this month discovered the third red spot on the planet, which has been nicknamed “Baby spot.” Red Spot, Jr., was discovered in spring 2006. The Great Red Spot, which is a raging storm about the same size as our Earth, has been churning in Jupiter’s atmosphere for 200 to 350 years.

“Baby Spot” had been a white storm prior to taking on its reddish appearance. Scientists believe the red color come from clouds reacting to solar ultraviolet radiation.

Why is Jupiter getting a surge of extra red spots? Researchers think that it has to do with climate changes on the planet. In 2004 a California astronomer predicted that the planet was moving into a phase of warming temperatures that would destabilize its atmosphere.

“Baby Spot” is on a collision course with the Great Red Spot and could be gobbled up by it later this summer or bounced into a different location on the planet.

National Geopgraphic link

Not our moon, but Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Scientists are planning new missions to explore Europa, which they now believe contains a water-filled ocean, and possibly life.


Ten year birthday for Cassini Huygens

The Cassini Huygens mission to Saturn just passed its ten year mark. It blasted off from Earth on Oct 15, 1997. I hooked up my computer to the internet a month later, and have been enjoying photos from it ever since. Last year for Paul McCartney's 64th birthday, sixty-four images from Cassini were put together into a poster and a movie.

Jupiter, Saturn, and its moons

Cassini flew by Jupiter on the way to Saturn . Cassini approached Saturn in mid-2004. One of my favorite photos is titled, The Dragon Storm. You can click through all of the Cassini photos by starting on this Cassini Imaging Diary page.

Huygens lands on Titan

The term "Huygens" refers to a probe attached to the Cassini craft. On Christmas Day, 2004 it separated itself and landed on Saturn's moon, Titan (click here to access videos and photos).

Learn more about Cassini-Huygens

If you haven't been following this exciting mission, you have ten years of catching up available.


At the Science Museum of Minnesota you can ask our featured Scientist on the Spot a question either using a computer interface or the old fashioned way – with a paper and pencil. Some of the handwritten questions veer a little off topic. But they are still good questions, and deserve answers. So here’s a question that was a little off topic for Noelle Beckman: “Can you tell me about Jupiter?”. Noelle is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota who studies how animals influence the make-up of tropical forests. So, I’ll take this one.

Jupiter: Image courtesy NASA.
Jupiter is the largest of the eight planets in our solar system (remember, poor Pluto is no longer considered a planet). Jupiter is a gas giant, meaning it is primarily made up of hydrogen (90%) and helium (10%) gases. Jupiter probably has a rocky or metallic core, though we don’t know that for certain.

Jupiter is huge – really, tremendously big. Not as big as the Sun, but bigger than all the planets (even including Pluto) combined.

The Great Red Spot: Image courtesy NASA.
The Great Red Spot: Image courtesy NASA.
When you look at the picture of Jupiter above, you can see that Jupiter’s atmosphere is banded – this banding is typical of gas giants (see pictures of the other gas giants in our solar system, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, to see similar banding). The bands are the result of extremely fast winds (more than 400 miles per hour) that are blowing in opposite directions for each adjacent band. The interaction of these bands result in storms – and one of Jupiter’s storms, called the Great Red Spot, has been known to exist since the seventeenth century.

Several NASA spacecraft have visited Jupiter, including Pioneers 10 & 11, Voyagers 1& 2, Galileo, New Horizons, Cassini-Huygens (on its way to Saturn), Ulysses (which used Jupiter in gravity-assist maneuver) – and probably others I was not able to dig up.

Jupiter has many moons – from what I can tell the current count is 63 – 47 of them are smaller than 10 kilometers in diameter. The four best known moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

What else can I tell you? The comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter in 1994. You can see Jupiter in the night sky right now (in the southern sky during twilight and lower in the southwest after dark). Jupiter was named after the Roman god, Jupiter, who was very similar to Zeus in the Greek pantheon. In Pompeii there was a temple to Jupiter at the north end of the forum. Jupiter has faint planetary rings, like Saturn.

I hope this answers this person’s question. See, I can tell you about Jupiter!


Jupiter: Courtesy: Wikipedia
Jupiter: Courtesy: Wikipedia
Jupiter: Courtesy: NASA
Jupiter: Courtesy: NASA

Oval BA, or more commonly recognized as the Little Red Spot of Red Spot Jr., has captured some scientists’ attention. Still wondering what Oval BA is? It is a fierce storm on the planet Jupiter. Oval BA is the little “brother” to the well-known Great Red Spot on Jupiter.

Jupiter facts

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and is the largest planet in our solar system. To give you an idea of how massive Jupiter is, one thousand planets the size of Earth could fit inside one Jupiter!

The Great Red Spot is a huge storm circulating counterclockwise in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Oval BA is about half the size of the Great Red Spot. Oval BA first appeared in 2000 when three smaller spots collided.

What is going on with Oval BA?

Recently the Hubble Space Telescope relayed information detailing Oval BA has changed and is becoming more like the Great Red Spot. A year ago, Oval BA was white. Currently it is a reddish hue matching that of its bigger counterpart. Oval BA has been clocked having 400 mile per hour winds.

Scientists speculate the little red spot has gained speed as well as strength as it has shrunk. Amy Simon-Miller, NASA planetary scientist, explained Oval BA picked up steam in the same fashion spinning figure skaters accelerate when they move their arms closer to their core. The reddish hue can be attributed to red material in the atmosphere-mostly sulfur.

Jupiter will be heading behind the sun out of Earth’s view until January. Scientists are expecting more noticeable changes when Jupiter comes back into view.

Until then, what do you think will happen to these two distinct storms? Do you think there will be a day when Oval BA and the Great Red Spot collide and create one massive storm?


Jupiter is growing spots. The largest planet in our solar system has long been home to the Great Red Spot, but recently a second red spot, not as large and dubbed ‘Red Spot, Jr.’ by astronomers, was seen to form on the face of Jupiter.

Seen with the naked eye on a clear night, Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System, looks like a very bright star. But seen through a powerful telescope, the face of Jupiter crawls with ever-changing sworls of color. The biggest of these sworls is the Great Red Spot. It is an enormous storm, a hurricane three times larger than the entire Earth, which has been raging for over 300 years. 2nd Red Spot on Jupiter: Hubble Space Telescope Image courtesy of NASA.
2nd Red Spot on Jupiter: Hubble Space Telescope Image courtesy of NASA.

‘Red Junior’ was first spotted by Christopher Go in February of this year. The new spot formed from the merger of three, smaller white spots sometime in the past year, and then turned red, just like its larger cousin. The picture here is courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Great Red Spot has been know almost as long as telescopes have been around. It was first seen by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini sometime around 1665 and has been an object of fascination and study ever since. No one is exactly sure why it has its reddish color, although one theory is that the storm dredges up gas from deep inside Jupiter and brings it to the surface where it reacts with the sunlight and turns red.

Unlike Earth, which is made of rock surrounded by a thin atmosphere, Jupiter is almost entirely made of gasses. This lack of a rocky core means that there is nothing to slow down or stop violent storms once they get started. They just continue to swirl and combine with each other. Everything on the face of Jupiter changes except the Great Red Spot; it is an island of stability in a sea of chaos. The appearance of a second spot has prompted some astronomers to speculate that Jupiter is undergoing a change in climate.

No one is sure what will happen to Red Junior. It is possible that it will die out, or break up into smaller storms, or even merge with the bigger Spot. Astronomers will be keeping a close eye on it to find out what happens next.