February 28, 2024

Scientists Use VLT Exoplanet Hunter to Study Jupiter’s Winds

In a breakthrough study, researchers have utilized an instrument designed to discover planets light years away to study the winds on Jupiter. Although the discovery of planets orbiting other stars has become routine, with over 5,000 already identified, little is known about the atmosphere of the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. To gain a better understanding of Jupiter’s clouds and air layers, continuous observations over time are necessary.

For the first time, scientists from the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences at the University of Lisbon used the ESPRESSO spectrograph, installed on the VLT telescope at the European Southern Observatory, to measure wind speeds on Jupiter. The team employed a technique called Doppler velocimetry, which relies on the reflection of visible light from the sun by clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere. By analyzing the change in wavelength of the reflected light, they were able to determine the speed at which the clouds were moving relative to Earth.

The researchers focused their study on Jupiter’s equatorial zone, as well as its north and south equatorial belts, which are characterized by contrasting cloud formations and atmospheric dynamics. By measuring winds ranging from 60 to 428 km/h with an uncertainty of less than 36 km/h, the scientists obtained valuable data on the wind patterns on Jupiter.

One of the main challenges in conducting this research was accurately targeting specific points on Jupiter’s disk due to the high resolution of the VLT telescope. Additionally, Jupiter’s status as a gaseous planet, with varying rotational speeds depending on latitude, added complexity to the measurements.

To validate their findings, the team compared their results with existing data collected by space instruments. The consistency between the previous measurements and the new data obtained using the Doppler velocimetry technique confirmed its effectiveness in studying Jupiter’s winds. This achievement opens up possibilities for systematically monitoring the atmospheres of distant gaseous planets.

The researchers plan to expand their observations with ESPRESSO to cover a larger area of Jupiter’s disk and collect wind data throughout the planet’s entire rotation period, which lasts approximately 10 hours. By developing a computational model based on these observations, the team aims to understand the causes of Jupiter’s atmospheric phenomena and prepare for future observations with precise information about cloud altitude and pressure.

Having mastered this technique for Jupiter, the scientists intend to apply it to other gaseous planets, with Saturn as their next target. The success of these observations with ESPRESSO is significant as it demonstrates the potential of using similar instruments in future telescopes, such as the Extremely Large Telescope and the JUICE mission by the European Space Agency, which is dedicated to studying Jupiter and will provide additional data.

This groundbreaking study not only deepens our understanding of Jupiter’s complex atmospheric dynamics but also paves the way for further exploration of exoplanet atmospheres using advanced instruments and techniques.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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