Hubble presents stunning new images of Jupiter and Uranus

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The Hubble telescope was designed to target objects beyond the Earth's atmosphere. It not only tries to discover new distant galaxies, but also served to rediscover the worlds that accompany us in the solar system. Since 1990, it has helped to keep a watchful eye on the major changes that the giant planets are going through. The NASA and ESA team have released new images of Jupiter and Uranus.

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New images of Jupiter and Uranus from the Hubble telescope. Credits: NASA, ESA, STScI, A. Simon (NASA-GSFC), M. H. Wong (UC Berkeley), J. DePasquale (STScI)

The largest of the planets 

Unlike the Earth and the rocky planets, the giants lack a solid surface. Just as light finds it much more difficult to reach great depths. However, they offer us a very rich and diverse meteorology. This allows the flow of different gases or crystals that change the colors of the clouds. Thanks to the atmospheric observation program of the outer planets we have continuous images of them.  

Similar to the Earth, the other planets pass through seasons thanks to the inclination with respect to the plane of their orbit.. A large number of storms are expected to form in the northern hemisphere in the coming months. 

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The image shows a chain of cyclones and anticyclones. If several of these get close enough and manage to merge, they could compete in size with the Great Red Spot. However, this is prevented by the opposite spin directions. Also prominent in the image is the closest of the Galilean moons, Io, and its corresponding shadow on the gas giant. Thanks to Hubble's resolution, the different shades of orange and yellow on its surface can be seen. 

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Here the Great Red Macha is centered next to Ganymede, the largest of the moons of the solar system. Although the GMR is larger than the Earth, it has been losing size in recent years and is at its smallest point in the last 150 years. 

The frozen giant 

Uranus has a peculiar characteristic and that is its spin axis, it is so tilted that it appears to be on its side. Although the cause is still uncertain, it is believed that the change may have occurred during a collision with another massive object. 

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The first image shows us Uranus in 2014 during the northern hemisphere spring equinox. At that time during the 84 Earth years it takes to complete one revolution, the equatorial zone of the planet was directly illuminated by the Sun. Several frozen methane storms appear at high latitudes. 

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A more recent perspective, from 2022, the north pole shows a haze similar to smog in cities. There are also many small storms at the edge of the haze.. Astronomers want to better understand the flows of material in the various atmospheric layers of the icy giant. Before reaching the solstice in the northern hemisphere, a large growth is expected in the area near the north pole. This will also help to better orient it towards the Earth, thus facilitating its study. 

Francisco Andrés Forero Daza