By Prarthana Mitra
Half a century after the historic Galileo probe, when scientists at NASA had given up on the quest for water on Jupiter, a recent research by a team of US-based scientists may have stumbled onto a potentially pathbreaking discovery.
What we know now
In a paper published in Astronomical Journal, titled “The Gas Composition and Deep Cloud Structure of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” they claim to have found evidence of three cloud layers in the titular hurricane enveloping the planet for half a century.
The deepest cloud layer has been detected at 5-7 bars or about 100 miles below the cloud tops, where the scientists believe the temperature dips below the freezing point.
The team and process behind the observations
“By formulating and analyzing [radiation] data obtained using ground-based telescopes, our team has detected the chemical signatures of water deep beneath the surface of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Máté Ádámkovics, an assistant professor in the College of Science’s department of physics and astronomy.
The team also comprised Gordon L. Bjoraker of NASA, Michael H. Wong and Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley, Tilak Hewagama of the University of Maryland and Glenn Orton of CalTech, but it will open its doors to include more scientists to take the research to the next level.
“The discovery of water on Jupiter using our technique is important in many ways. Our current study focused on the red spot, but future projects will be able to estimate how much water exists on the entire planet,” Ádámkovics told SciTech Daily. According to him, even though 99% of Jupiter’s atmosphere is composed of hydrogen and helium, “even solar fractions of water on a planet this massive would add up to many times more water than we have here on Earth.”
For a planet that is encircled by 79 moons made of ice, “Water may play a critical role in Jupiter’s dynamic weather patterns,” he said. The discovery, made with iSHELL on the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and the Near Infrared Spectograph on the Keck 2 telescope, will further improve scientific understanding of the mysteries behind the turbulent atmosphere.
Finally, it is common knowledge that the presence of liquid water suggests the possibility of life. So even if it appears very unlikely, Ádámkovics said, “life on Jupiter is not beyond the range of our imaginations.” NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which breached Jupiter’s atmosphere in 2016 and will be orbiting the planet till 2021, is currently engaged in searching for water using its own high-tech infrared spectrometer.
Should Juno’s observations match the national team’s ground-based observations, they can lead to greater discoveries not only in the Great Red Spot, but all of Jupiter.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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