Hubble captures a stunning ultraviolet image of Jupiter

You can now see Jupiter in a whole new way, thanks to a new image from the Hubble Space Telescope. Showing the planet in ultraviolet wavelengths, the image highlights the planet’s Great Red Spot – a giant storm larger than the width of the entire Earth that has been raging for hundreds of years.

The image was released in celebration of Jupiter reaching opposition, meaning it is directly opposite the Sun as seen from Earth. This means that if you’re a stargazer, now is a great time to look for Jupiter in the night sky as it will appear its largest and brightest.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows an ultraviolet view of Jupiter.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows an ultraviolet view of Jupiter. NASA, ESA, and M. Wong (University of California – Berkeley); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

The Hubble Space Telescope looks mostly in optical light wavelengths, which is as far as the human eye can see. But it also has the ability to go beyond this range, a little bit into the infrared and, in this case, into the ultraviolet. Looking at different wavelengths allows scientists to see different features of cosmic objects such as planets and galaxies.

For example, the James Webb Space Telescope observes extremely distant galaxies in the infrared that are moving away from us and as a result. It contains light that is shifted into the infrared through a process called redshift. Infrared is also useful for being able to see through dust clouds.

Looking into ultraviolet wavelengths, on the other hand, is useful for seeing objects such as very young, very hot stars or the sparse gas and dust floating between stars, called the interstellar medium.

In this case, Hubble’s view of Jupiter is part of a project to study its turbulent atmosphere, specifically looking at its superstorm, the Great Red Spot. Different wavelengths of ultraviolet light are translated into the visible light spectrum to give this color effect.

“Although the storm appears red to the human eye, in this ultraviolet image, it appears darker because high-altitude haze particles absorb light at these wavelengths,” NASA explained in a statement. “The red, wavy polar haze is absorbing slightly less of this light due to differences in particle size, composition or height.”

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