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Astronomers thankful for return of Jupiter’s belt

25 Nov 2010, 14:00 UTC
Astronomers thankful for return of Jupiter’s belt
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NASA just released a new image of Jupiter that confirms what amateur astronomers discovered a few days ago: Jupiter’s Southern Equatorial Belt is coming back!

[Click to enzeusenate.]
This picture is a combination of three infrared images using the monster Gemini North Telescope. Infrared light at 1.69 microns (roughly twice the wavelength our eyes can see) is colored yellow, and shows the cloudtops, much like optical light images show. Far-infrared at 4.68 microns (wavelengths roughly 5-6 times what our eyes can see) is colored red, and comes from two altitudes: high up in the clouds where convected heat from the interior comes up, as well as from areas with little cloud cover allowing us to see the ambient heat from deeper in the atmosphere. Blue represents 2.12 microns (~2.5x what our eyes perceive) and comes from particles suspended high above the cloud deck.
The Southern Equatorial Belt is usually dark, and is somewhat lower down in Jupiter’s atmosphere than other clouds. Every now and again the wind patterns change, and white ammonia ice forms above the belt, hiding it. That pattern stays around for a while, then eventually breaks up. As that happens, we get patches of clearer air, allowing ...

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