Detailed Images of Jupiter Showcase Capabilities of Multiwavelength Astronomy

by | May 14, 2021 | Daily Space, Jupiter | 0 comments

IMAGE: Three images of Jupiter show the gas giant in three different types of light — infrared, visible, and ultraviolet. The image on the left was taken in infrared by the Near-InfraRed Imager (NIRI) instrument at Gemini North in Hawaiʻi, the northern member of the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab. The center image was taken in visible light by the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope. The image on the right was taken in ultraviolet light by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. All of the observations were taken on 11 January 2017. CREDIT: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/NASA/ESA, M.H. Wong and I. de Pater (UC Berkeley) et al.

At first glance, we thought this story was just a pretty new picture. We even questioned including it. And then I read the release, and, wow. The release buried the lede.

In new images, multiple images, mind you, released from NOIRLab, Jupiter is glorious. The images were taken with three different types of light using two different telescopes. Hubble took the pictures in visible and ultraviolet, and the infrared version was captured with the Near-InfraRed Imager (NIRI) instrument at the Gemini North observatory in Hawai’i. The infrared and ultraviolet versions are false-color images that emphasize each end of the spectrum because human eyes can’t actually see those colors. So we make them up.

Now, the images are truly striking, and they show off Jupiter in wondrous detail. I cannot stop staring at them. You can see not just the banding of the gas giant and its Giant Red Spot, you can see all the swirls and whorls of various storms. Add in the infrared and ultraviolet, and the complexity is almost unreal. This is a planet in our solar system, and are observing it from Earth (or close to Earth in the case of Hubble).

More importantly, these images show off what multiwavelength astronomy can do: provide insight into the object of observation that we cannot get from visible light alone. For example, per the press release: The planet’s Great Red Spot — the famous persistent storm system large enough to swallow the Earth whole — is a prominent feature of the visible and ultraviolet images, but it is almost invisible at infrared wavelengths. Jupiter’s counter-rotating bands of clouds, on the contrary, are clearly visible in all three views.

On top of that, the Great Red Spot is bigger in infrared, which can pierce the thick cloud cover that absorbs other wavelengths. And in the visible and ultraviolet, chromophores become visible. These are particles that absorb blue and ultraviolet light, which makes the Great Red Spot, well, red.

Honestly, I could go on and on about these images. I highly recommend you check out the link to the actual press release, which will be in our show notes at You can see all the details for yourself and even compare the various images side by side. It really is an amazing piece of work.

More Information

NOIRLab press release

NOIRLab blog post


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