The giant stormy planet Jupiter has gone through a makeover, as seen in these comparative Hubble Space Telescope images taken nearly 11 months apart. Several months ago the dark Southern Equatorial Belt (SEB) vanished. The last time this happened was in the early 1970s, when we didn't have powerful enough telescopes to study the change in detail.
A Hubble picture from July 23, 2009, captures the planet's common appearance over the past several decades with alternating zones of high altitude ammonia ice crystal clouds (white strips) and belts of lower altitude material (dark strip). The image was taken to study a wispy patch of dark debris in the far Southern Hemisphere caused by the suspected explosion of an asteroid plunging into the lower atmosphere on July 19, 2009.
A Hubble picture from June 7, 2010, reveals a slightly higher altitude layer of white ammonia ice crystal clouds that appears to obscure the deeper, darker belt clouds of the SEB. The team predicts that these clouds should clear out in a few months.
Hubble also resolved a string of dark spots farther south of the vanished belt. Based on past observations, the Hubble Jupiter team expects to see similar spots appear in the SEB, right before its white clouds clear out in a few months.
These natural color comparative planet portraits were taken in visible light with Hubble's new Wide Field Camera 3.
Credit: NASA, ESA, M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), A.A. Simon-Miller (Goddard Space Flight Center), H.B. Hammel (Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.), and the Jupiter Impact Science Team