13 June 2024
Researchers use VLT exoplanet hunter to study Jupiter's winds

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In a novel approach, scientists repurpose a powerful exoplanet-seeking telescope, the VLT, to unlock the mysteries of Jupiter’s turbulent atmospheric winds right within our own cosmic backyard.

Alright, let’s dive into this cosmic investigation that’s a bit closer to home than usual. You see, we’ve got these super cool tools called spectrographs—gadgets that split light into all its different colors (like a rainbow!) to help us understand what’s going on in the universe. Now, one of these high-tech gadgets, named ESPRESSO, is typically used to seek out new planets far beyond our solar system. It’s like a super-spy telescope that can pick up the faintest clues of distant worlds orbiting other stars.


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But here’s the twist: some clever researchers decided to point this exoplanet hunter towards Jupiter, the big, stormy giant in our own solar system backyard. It’s kind of like using a telescope to look at a bird in your own garden instead of searching for eagles miles away. And let me tell you, it’s not because they ran out of distant planets to look at—oh no, we’ve got plenty of those—but because Jupiter’s got its own set of mysteries to solve, particularly about its winds.


Now, Jupiter’s known for its super-fast winds, which can whip around at hundreds of kilometers per hour, creating those stunning bands and that famous Great Red Spot. But to really understand how these winds work, you can’t just take a quick peek. You need to watch them over time, which is exactly what the team did using a method called Doppler velocimetry. This method is like listening to an ambulance siren change pitch as it zooms past you, except instead of sound, they’re looking at changes in the color of light reflected off Jupiter’s clouds.


By using ESPRESSO, the team measured winds raging from gentle breezes at 60 km/h to fierce gales at a whopping 428 km/h! And because Jupiter is a big ball of gas, it’s a bit tricker to measure; it doesn’t spin uniformly like a solid planet would. Imagine trying to figure out how fast a whirlpool is spinning when the water itself is moving at different speeds—pretty challenging, right?


But why should we care about Jupiter’s winds? Well, understanding Jupiter’s atmosphere gives us clues about the weather on other gas giants, even those outside our solar system. Plus, it helps us prepare for future missions to Jupiter and its moons, like the upcoming JUICE mission by the European Space Agency. They’re going to get up close and personal with the giant planet, and knowing what the winds are like can be super helpful.


And guess what? This is just the beginning. The success with Jupiter means the researchers are going to try their hand at Saturn next. It’s like unlocking a new level in a video game—the more planets they study, the better we get at understanding our cosmic neighborhood.


So, next time you look up at the night sky and see Jupiter shining back at you, just think: there’s a whole bunch of scientists using some of the fanciest space tech right here on Earth to unravel the secrets of those distant twinkling lights. It’s pretty amazing what we can discover when we turn our gaze both far beyond and right within our own solar system.

SOURCE: Researchers use VLT exoplanet hunter to study Jupiter’s winds



1. What is a spectrograph and how does it work?

A spectrograph is a tool that splits light into its different colors to help scientists understand what’s happening in the universe. It works by analyzing the different wavelengths of light emitted or reflected by celestial objects.

2. What is Doppler velocimetry and how does it help measure winds on Jupiter?

Doppler velocimetry is a method that measures changes in the color of light reflected off Jupiter’s clouds to determine the speed and direction of its winds. It’s similar to how the pitch of an ambulance siren changes as it moves towards or away from you.

3. Why are Jupiter’s winds important to study?

Studying Jupiter’s winds helps us understand the weather on other gas giants, including those outside our solar system. It also prepares us for future missions to Jupiter and its moons, providing valuable information for planning and exploration.

4. How does ESPRESSO help measure Jupiter’s winds?

ESPRESSO is a high-tech spectrograph that can detect even the faintest clues of distant worlds. By using ESPRESSO, scientists were able to measure winds on Jupiter ranging from gentle breezes to fierce gales, providing valuable data for research and exploration.

5. What are the future plans for studying planetary winds?

After the success with Jupiter, the researchers plan to study Saturn next. By expanding their study to different planets, scientists can enhance our understanding of the cosmic neighborhood and unravel more mysteries of our solar system.

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Spectrograph, Doppler velocimetry, Gas giant

Optical spectrometer
An optical spectrometer (spectrophotometer, spectrograph or spectroscope) is an instrument used to measure properties of light over a specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, typically used in spectroscopic analysis to identify materials. The variable measured is most often the irradiance of the light but could also, for instance, be the...
Read more: Optical spectrometer

Laser Doppler velocimetry
Laser Doppler velocimetry, also known as laser Doppler anemometry, is the technique of using the Doppler shift in a laser beam to measure the velocity in transparent or semi-transparent fluid flows or the linear or vibratory motion of opaque, reflecting surfaces. The measurement with laser Doppler anemometry is absolute and...
Read more: Laser Doppler velocimetry

Gas giant
A gas giant is a giant planet composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter and Saturn are the gas giants of the Solar System. The term "gas giant" was originally synonymous with "giant planet". However, in the 1990s, it became known that Uranus and Neptune are really a distinct class...
Read more: Gas giant

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