Oct 25, 2023 - Science

NASA's JWST discovers powerful jet stream in Jupiter's atmosphere

Jupiter as seen by the James Webb Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has found a never-before-seen jet stream in Jupiter's atmosphere.

Why it matters: The new discovery shows off the power of the telescope to transform our understanding of not just extremely distant objects but worlds in our own solar system.

  • Learning more about Jupiter and its atmosphere can help scientists piece together how gas giant planets in more distant parts of space may have evolved.

What's happening: The newfound jet stream above Jupiter's equator stretches 3,000 miles wide and travels at 320 miles per hour in Jupiter's lower stratosphere, according to NASA.

  • "This is something that totally surprised us," Ricardo Hueso of the University of the Basque Country and an author of the study in Nature Astronomy describing the discovery, said in a NASA statement.
  • "What we have always seen as blurred hazes in Jupiter's atmosphere now appear as crisp features that we can track along with the planet's fast rotation."

How it works: The JWST looks out into the universe in infrared light, allowing the telescope to cut through dust and reveal new details of familiar — or unfamiliar — objects.

What to watch: "Jupiter has a complicated but repeatable pattern of winds and temperatures in its equatorial stratosphere, high above the winds in the clouds and hazes measured at these wavelengths," study co-author Leigh Fletcher of the University of Leicester, said in the statement.

  • "If the strength of this new jet is connected to this oscillating stratospheric pattern, we might expect the jet to vary considerably over the next 2 to 4 years – it'll be really exciting to test this theory in the years to come."
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