NASA Found Water in the Depths of the Great Red Spot

NASA Found Water in the Depths of the Great Red Spot

A team of researchers reveals that a considerable amount of water is present deep inside the atmosphere of Jupiter.

The chemical resemblance between Jupiter and the Sun makes it a key planet for understanding the formation of our solar system. More importantly, it will help humanity to learn more about the development of other solar systems as we search for extra-terrestrial life in other parts of the universe. It is common knowledge that water is an ultimate guide in this regard and scientists have been trying, for generations, to figure out whether water exists on Jupiter or not. An Astrophysicist of the Goddard Space Flight Center, Gordon Bjoraker, claims to have taken a major step towards the answer.

The researching team made use of the ground-based telescopes that are sensitive to thermal radiations to study the depths of the Great Red Spot, a storm that was first discovered in the 17th century. Scientists found chemical signatures of water over these dense clouds. It was quite surprising because the density of the clouds makes it difficult for the electromagnetic energy to escape them. Bjoraker acknowledged that in the following words:

It turns out they’re not so thick that they block our ability to see deeply. That’s been a pleasant surprise.”

The Juno Spacecraft of NASA is the latest addition in the list of spacecraft that have been assigned the task of locating water on this gas giant. It uses an infrared spectrometer alongside a microwave radiometer which allows it to probe deeper (up to 100 bars) than any of its predecessors. The altitude of Jupiter is measured in bars due to the absence of any solid surface. Scientists from different parts of the world are appreciating the work of Bjoraker’s team. In addition to that, they are expecting the findings of Juno to match with these results as it can offer a completely new solution to the water problem. Amy Simon, an Expert of Planetary Atmospheres at the Goddard Space Center, said,

If it works, then maybe we can apply it elsewhere, like Saturn, Uranus or Neptune, where we don’t have a Juno.”

Some decades back, scientists agreed to the idea that Jupiter has a gaseous composition, like our Sun, and has no core at all. However, the mindset seemed to have changed dramatically in the past few years. More and more evidence has emerged to the scene which points towards an idea that Jupiter might have a core which is 10 times the mass of the Earth. A lot of spacecraft that visited the largest planet of our solar system, including Juno, found that it had a core of water ice and rock before mixing with the gases of the solar nebula. Bjoraker talked about this possibility by saying,

The moons that orbit Jupiter are mostly water ice, so the whole neighborhood has plenty of water. Why wouldn’t the planet—which is this huge gravity well, where everything falls into it—be water-rich, too?”

The researching team relied on the most sensitive infrared telescope on Earth at the W.M. Keck Observatory for collecting data for their experiment. Additionally, they used a new instrument at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility which can detect a wider range of gases. According to the estimates of the planetary scientists, Jupiter has three layers of clouds. The uppermost layer is made up of Ammonia while water (ice and liquid) constitutes the innermost layer. Ammonia and Sulphur account for the middle one. Bjoraker wanted to confirm this through ground-based telescopes and for this reason he used wavelengths from the infrared range because gases don’t absorb heat, generally. They analyzed the absorption pattern of Methane because it cannot freeze in the atmosphere of Jupiter. This ensures that the abundance of the organic compound remains the same throughout the planet. Bjoraker said,

If you see that the strength of methane lines vary from inside to outside of the Great Red Spot, it’s not because there’s more methane here than there. It’s because there are thicker, deep clouds that are blocking the radiation in the Great Red Spot.

Scientists are now interested in testing this latest technique on different parts of the Jupiter to get a global idea the planet’s water abundance.

You can have a brief look at the experiment performed by the team of Bjoraker in the following video:

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