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By Lumistar's Chief Scientist

August 15, 2016

Infrared Shows Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Is Hot

Update 9/2/16: Jupiter’s Full Scan in Infrared!

A recent infrared scan of Jupiter shows it’s Great Red Spot to be the hottest spot on the planet – by a significant amount. The Great Red Spot has been churning for at least 150 years and is currently shrinking. What was once 25,000 miles wide in the 1800s is now 10,000 miles wide. The GRS was first discovered by Galileo in the 1600s. The color has also changed over time. It currently spans the distance equal to three Earth-diameters. It is comparable by scientists to a Earth hurricane, and it takes six days to complete one spin. The lower atmosphere of Jupiter is very hot as it’s a gas giant composed of mostly hydrogen and helium, much like the sun. The planet releases more heat than it receives from the sun as gravity compresses its mass and slowly shrinks the planet as it spends its fuel, much like a star. This is why most scientists believe Jupiter, with its massive gaseous size, could in fact be a star that failed to ignite.

The mystery of this story begins with a 1973 Pioneer 10 spacecraft that did a flyby and measured Jupiter’s temperature for the first time. Perplexing scientists, it showed the upper atmosphere is nearly 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, when it was predicted to be -100 degrees based on the lack solar heating from the sun, largely because the planet is about fives time further from the sun than Earth. A theory was created that the heat might be coming from Jupiter’s gargantuan auroras, the glow of charged particles accelerated along the magnetic field into the north and south polar regions , which were indeed even hotter at 1700 degrees Fahrenheit. But scientists have been confounded how could that heat be distributed north and south, causing a massive temperature rise in the middle, when the winds of the planet go east and west as seen in Jupiter’s tell tale bands.

James O’Donoghue, a research scientist at Boston University using a very small travel grant, used observations on the SpeX instrument, mounted on the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii to view Jupiter’s heat. Astronomers measure the temperature of a planet by observing the non-visible, infrared (IR) light it emits. O’Donoghue and his team think they have finally cracked the code. He discovered, using an infrared spectrometer observing the rare earth H3+ molecule, that the temperature of the upper atmosphere , 350 to 600 miles above the giant swirling storm, averages 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit!

Scientists in 1973 didn’t believe there was a connection between the Jovian low and high altitudes because of the great distance within the atmosphere of the planet. This temperature discovery shows this is untrue as a new theory has emerged that they are indeed connected in an unexpected manor. The theory is this GRS hotspot is created by thunderous soundwaves “breaking” in the thin upper reaches of the atmosphere. The gravity ‘shock’ waves from the energy of the lower storm are traveling upward up until they reach their end and snap like ocean waves hitting the shore creating a massive amount of sound and kinetic energy that heats the upper atmosphere.

“There is some evidence in Earth’s atmosphere, above storms and above features such as mountains – the Andes mountains in fact – that there are acoustic waves emanating from them, and that they propagate up into the atmosphere and cause heating there,” O’Donoghue said. They described their findings online July 27 in Nature

Filed under: Infrared,Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — Lumistar @ 08:09

August 15, 2015

NASA Uses Infrared Camera To Measure Pluto’s Ice

pluto infrared spectral image

When New Horizons spacecraft passed Pluto on 14 July, is equipped with an infrared camera as part of the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA). LEISA is a spectrometer on New Horizons’ Ralph instrument, that operates in 256 near infrared (NIR) wavelengths between 1.25-2.50 micrometers. The Ralph instrument combines visible imagery from the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) with infrared spectroscopy from LEISA.

A little background: Spectroscopy, the measurement of radiation intensity as a function of wavelength, is used in physical and analytical chemistry because atoms and molecules have unique spectra or ‘code’. The measured spectra are used to determine the chemical composition and physical properties of astronomical objects. LEISA uses infrared spectroscopy using an infrared camera detector or spectrometer, to capture the longer invisible infrared wavelengths of near infrared NIR (vs. sometimes using shorter wavelengths of optical light) and in this case using multi-band infrared sub-wavelengths to derive the chemical composition ‘code’ of a distant celestial body.

The above map represents just three of those 256 NIR wavelengths, as more data has yet to be beamed back to Earth, in a slow process that will last through 2016. The bright blue, red, black, and green pixels — overlaid on a LORRI basemap, represent methane ice accumulations as derived from infrared spectroscopy. Three colors on the map represent the three wavelengths data transmitted to date. The color red was chosen to map the longest infrared wavelength thus far (2.30 to 2.33 micrometers), followed by green (1.97 to 2.05 micrometers), and blue at the short end of infrared (1.62 to 1.70 micrometers). From what scientists are observing from the Ralph instrument, Pluto is abundant in methane ice, but it is unevenly distributed, for which they lack understanding. Methane changes from gas to liquid to ice as the temperature drops. On relatively warm Earth methane takes form of a gas, on Saturn’s moon Titan methane is a liquid sea, and on distant and very cold Pluto, methane has become thick mountainous patches of ice. Pluto’s equatorial patches are so reddish-brown dark in optical light they have shallow infrared absorption. But in the north polar cap, methane ice is diluted in a thick, transparent slab of nitrogen ice resulting in strong absorption of infrared light.

For the first time in history we have images near Pluto. Pluto has come as a surprise with it’s giant heart shape on the surface, its reddish color like Mars but for a different reason, the fact it could be geologically active to this day which is a mystery why, incredible mountain ranges and glaciers that look surprisingly like Earth’s, its strange snake skin like terrain shaped by its alien hydrological glacial cycle (it snows nitrogen), Pluto’s daily weather changes, and a 12 layer nitrogen/methane atmosphere. A different instrument, Alice, will beam back separate data about Pluto’s atmosphere. Not too long ago, all that was known about Pluto was represented by a distant blue dot. Bottom line: Pluto’s ice is more diverse than anticipated to say the least.

Note: Spectroscopic studies were central to the development of quantum mechanics and included Max Planck’s explanation of blackbody radiation, Albert Einstein’s explanation of the photoelectric effect and Niels Bohr’s explanation of atomic structure and spectra.