Image Release: ALMA Shows What’s Inside Jupiter’s Storms

Swirling clouds, big colorful belts, giant storms — the beautiful and turbulent atmosphere of Jupiter has been showcased many times. But what is going on below the clouds? What is causing the many storms and eruptions that we see on the ‘surface’ of the planet? To see this, visible light is not enough. We need to study Jupiter using radio waves.

New radio wave images made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)

provide a unique view of Jupiter’s atmosphere down to fifty kilometers below the planet’s visible (ammonia) cloud deck.

“ALMA enabled us to make a three-dimensional map of the distribution of ammonia gas below the clouds. And for the first time, we were able to study the atmosphere below the ammonia cloud layers after an energetic eruption on Jupiter,” said Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley.

The atmosphere of gas giant Jupiter is made out of mostly hydrogen and helium, together with trace gases of methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and water. The top-most cloud layer is made up of ammonia ice. Below that is a layer of solid ammonium hydrosulfide particles, and deeper still, around 80 kilometers below the upper cloud deck, there likely is a cloud layer of liquid water. Variations in the upper clouds form the distinctive brown belts and white zones seen from Earth.

Many of the storms on Jupiter take place inside those belts. They can be compared to thunderstorms on Earth and are often associated with lightning events. Storms reveal themselves in visible light as small bright clouds, referred to as plumes. These plume eruptions can cause a major disruption of the belt, which can be visible for months or years.

The ALMA images were taken a few days after amateur astronomers observed an eruption in Jupiter’s South Equatorial Belt in January 2017. A small bright white plume was visible first and then a large-scale disruption in the belt was observed that lasted for weeks after the eruption.

De Pater and her colleagues used ALMA to study the atmosphere below the plume and the disrupted belt at radio wavelengths and compared these to UV-visible light and infrared images made with other telescopes at approximately the same time.

“Our ALMA observations are the first to show that high concentrations of ammonia gas are brought up during an energetic eruption,” said de Pater. “The combination of observations simultaneously at many different wavelengths enabled us to examine the eruption in detail. This led us to confirm the current theory that energetic plumes are triggered by moist convection at the base of water clouds, which are located deep in the atmosphere. The plumes bring up ammonia gas from deep in the atmosphere to high altitudes, well above the main ammonia cloud deck,” she added.

“These ALMA maps at millimeter wavelengths complement the maps made with the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array in centimeter wavelengths,” said Bryan Butler of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. “Both maps probe below the cloud layers seen at optical wavelengths, and show ammonia-rich gases rising into and forming the upper cloud layers (zones), and ammonia-poor air sinking down (belts).”

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

# # #

Iris Nijman
Interim Public Information Officer for ALMA
[email protected]

This research is presented in a paper titled: “First ALMA Millimeter Wavelength Maps of Jupiter, with a Multi-Wavelength Study of Convection,” by I. de Pater, et al. in the Astronomical Journal. Preprint: https://arxiv.org/abs/1907.11820

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) in Taiwan and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI).

ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

In Other News…

AUI and Accumen Partner to Increase Crisis Resilience to Natural and Manmade Disasters for Healthcare Sector

AUI and Accumen, Inc. announced they are partnering to provide services to improve crisis resilience to manmade and natural disasters for the healthcare sector at a historically challenging time.

New Scholarship Established by the AUI Board of Trustees

AUI and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) today announced the establishment of the AUI Board of Trustees NAC Bridge Scholarship Award.

2021 Jansky Lectureship Awarded to Mexican Astronomer

Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) have awarded the 2021 Karl G. Jansky Lectureship to Professor Luis F. Rodriguez of the National University of Mexico (UNAM).

Pride Month Statement

Pride Month is a time for celebration of LGBTQIA+ communities in commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. At AUI, we celebrate an environment that is safe and welcoming to all, and the strength that our diversity brings us.

Cyber Expert Wins FBI Community Leadership Award

Robert R. Wells, special agent in charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI has chosen a local cyber expert as the 2020 Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA) recipient for North Carolina. Torry Crass has been an invaluable partner to the FBI Charlotte field office since 2013.

2021 AUI Scholarship Recipients

Below are the fourteen winners of the 2021 AUI Scholarship conducted by International Scholarship and Tuition Services, Inc. These students will each receive an award of $3,500 per year to aid in defraying expenses at the college or university of their choice.

ITL Development Director: “We are convinced that our proposal is solid and meets all the requirements”

In an interview with Nueva Mining and Energy Magazine, Ricardo Raineri, Director of Development of the Chilean Institute of Clean Technologies (ITL) refers to the criticism that has hovered over Corfo’s decision, arguing that “it is essential to understand and emphasize that our proposal is based on an open platform model ”.

West Virginia Students Contact International Space Station LIVE

Friday, May 7th at 8:00 AM EDT, students in rural West Virginia will experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. Green Bank Elementary-Middle School (GBEMS) will be contacting astronaut Mark Vande Hei on the International Space Station (ISS).

The Universe just Became More Accessible: Free Software for Exploring the Universe Through Sound

Today free software has been released to help the blind and visually impaired (BIV) explore the universe through sound. With the support from the National Science Foundation’s STEM+C program, Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA) brought together nearly 200 BIV and sighted students, teachers, astronomers and programmers from across the Nation to create this innovative software called Afterglow Access.

Nueva Mineria covers the importance of ICTL’s Open Science model pioneered by AUI

The ICTL is a Chilean clean technology institute that is committed to developing innovations in the mining, power, battery, manufacturing, and related industrial sectors. The Open Science model allows a larger community to access R&D facilities based on the merit of their proposals.

You are now leaving AUI

You will be redirected to the related partnering organization's website.

You will be redirected to
in 4 seconds...

Click the link above to continue or CANCEL