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Scientists spot changes in Jupiter's atmosphere


NASA imagery reveals changes on Jupiter's atmosphere. Image credit: NASA/IRTF/JPL-Caltech/NAOJ/A. Wesley/A. Kazemoto/C.
NASA imagery reveals changes on Jupiter's atmosphere. Image credit: NASA/IRTF/JPL-Caltech/NAOJ/A. Wesley/A. Kazemoto/C.

Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer

October 19, 2012 — Jupiter is being pelted with small space rocks, causing its atmosphere to change, NASA scientists say.

Jupiter has been suffering more impacts over the last four years than ever previously observed, including this meteoroid impact on Sept. 10, 2012. Image credit: NASA/IRTF/JPL-Caltech/G. Hall/University of the Basque Country
Jupiter has been suffering more impacts over the last four years than ever previously observed, including this meteoroid impact on Sept. 10, 2012. Image credit: NASA/IRTF/JPL-Caltech/G. Hall/University of the Basque Country

Jupiter is in the midst of a makeover.

NASA scientists say that space rocks are causing the planet's atmosphere to change colour.

Other transformations are also afoot: Clouds have been migrating to other parts of the planet and hotspots appear to be disappearing and re-appearing.

"The changes we're seeing in Jupiter are global in scale," said Glenn Orton, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement posted to the NASA website.

"We've seen some of these before, but never with modern instrumentation to clue us in on what's going on. Other changes haven't been seen in decades, and some regions have never been in the state they're appearing in now. At the same time, we've never seen so many things striking Jupiter. Right now, we're trying to figure out why this is all happening."

Scientists compared NASA data with photos taken by amateur astronomers and found that unprecedented changes have occurred on the planet over the past four years.

It's unclear whether the transformation is recent, or if the evolution has been taking place for some time.

"It does appear that Jupiter is taking an unusual beating over the last few years, but we expect that this apparent increase has more to do with an increasing cadre of skilled amateur astronomers training their telescopes on Jupiter and helping scientists keep a closer eye on our biggest planet," Orton said.

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