Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jupiter Overview

Jupiter is up for prime viewing this month so here's an overview of the king of planets.
5th planet from the sun, largest, a gas giant covered with clouds. 
The white clouds seen on the surface are thought to be ammonia crystals. Darker shades may be due to phosphorus, sulfur, or hydrocarbons stirred up from lower levels. 
The great red spot is a persistent storm that's been visible for as long as we've been able to see it with telescopes. 

Known as the amateur's planet because there's always something going on:
-the 4 bright Galilean moons rotate around the planet, sometimes casting shadows as they cross over the face, other times disappearing from view as they move behind Jupiter or its shadow, only to reappear hours later. 
-the great red spot can be seen at times.  the spot rotates with the clouds on the planet's surface coming into view every 10 hours
-a number of significant planetary events have been discovered by amateurs including major meteor strikes leaving transient spots on the surface, formation and disappearance of normally consistent bands, spots, etc. 

Low power view with binoculars will show a disk with the 4 Galilean moons in various arrangements in a line around the planet.  modest magnification with a telescope (60-80x) will reveal several cloud belts on the surface:

the face of jupiter typically has two prominent dark stripes across the center along with grey/brown regions at the poles.



at higher magnification (100-200x) with good seeing and the right time you may see the Great Red Spot as well as smaller white ovals:












here's Europa and shadow crossing the face:















double, then rare triple shadow transit

















One year, one of Jupiter's dark belts disappeared, returning several months later:






at one point, a second red spot appeared
here's red spot junior, barely visible at the tip of the arrow:







the slightly blue patches in the central white band are areas of clear sky, blue for the same reason ours is (i think):






a neat trick is to take two photographs of Jupiter 20 minutes apart.  the rotation allows you to create a 3D pair:

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