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NASA’s Webb Telescope to Unravel Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Mystery

They will be able to observe infrared wavelengths that could shed light on what causes the spot's iconic colour

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NASA names new gamma-ray constellations after Godzilla, Hulk. Pixabay
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NASAs James Webb Space Telescope will use its unparalleled infrared capabilities to study Jupiters Great Red Spot, shedding new light on the enigmatic storm, the US space agency said.

Led by Leigh Fletcher, a senior research fellow from the University of Leicester, the scientists plan to use Webb’s mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) to create multispectral maps of the Great Red Spot and analyse its thermal, chemical and cloud structures.

They will be able to observe infrared wavelengths that could shed light on what causes the spot’s iconic colour.

The colour has often been attributed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation interacting with nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus-bearing chemicals that are lifted from Jupiter’s deeper atmosphere by powerful atmospheric currents within the storm.

Fletcher explained that using MIRI to observe in the 5 to 7 micrometer range could be particularly revealing for the Great Red Spot, as observations in such wavelengths are not possible from Earth.

Those wavelengths of light could allow the scientists to see unique chemical byproducts of the storm, which would give insight into its composition.

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Jupiter. Pixabay

“We’ll be looking for signatures of any chemical compounds that are unique to the (Great Red Spot) … which could be responsible for the red chromophores,” Fletcher noted.

Chromophores are the parts of molecules responsible for their colour.

Webb’s observations may also help determine whether the Great Red Spot is generating heat and releasing it into Jupiter’s upper atmosphere, a phenomenon that could explain the high temperatures in that region.

Generations of astronomers have studied the Great Red Spot; the storm has been monitored since 1830, but it has possibly existed for more than 350 years.

Also Read: NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm

The reason for the storm’s longevity largely remains a mystery, and Fletcher explained that the key to understanding the formation of storms on Jupiter is to witness their full life cycle — growing, shrinking, and eventually dying.

We did not see the Great Red Spot form, and it may not die anytime soon (though it has been shrinking, as documented by images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories), so scientists must rely on observing “smaller and fresher” storms on the planet to see how they begin and evolve, something that Webb may do in the future, said Fletcher. (IANS)

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Hubble Returns To Normal Functioning Soon: NASA

After the engineering tests have been completed, Hubble is expected to soon return to normal science operations, NASA stated

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Hubble's backup gyro, which had been off for more than 7.5 years, was incorrectly returning extremely high rotation rates. Flcikr

NASA has brought Hubble Space Telescope’s seven-year old backup gyroscope (gyro) back to life, after the spacecraft entered safe mode due to a failed gyro earlier this month, the US space agency said on Tuesday.

A gyro is a device that measures the speed at which the spacecraft is turning and is needed to help Hubble turn and lock on to new targets.

Hubble’s backup gyro, which had been off for more than 7.5 years, was incorrectly returning extremely high rotation rates, NASA said in a statement.

Hubble
The Hubble Telescope hovering in space. Wikimedia Commons

This gyro was turned on after the spacecraft entered safe mode due to a failed gyro on October 5.

Additional tests will be performed to ensure Hubble can return to science operations with this gyro, NASA said.

To correct high rotation rates, the Hubble team executed a running restart of the gyro on October 16.

This procedure turned the gyro off for one second, and then restarted it before the wheel spun down.

However, the data showed no improvement in the gyro’s performance.

Hubble Telescope. red dwarf
This gyro was turned on after the spacecraft entered safe mode due to a failed gyro on October 5. Flickr

The team, then on October 18, commanded a series of spacecraft maneuvers, or turns, in opposite directions to attempt to clear any blockage that may have caused the float to be off-centre and produce the exceedingly high rates.

During each maneuver, the gyro was switched from high mode to low mode to dislodge any blockage that may have accumulated around the float.

They noticed a significant reduction in the high rates, allowing rates to be measured in low mode for brief periods of time.

On October 19, the team again commanded Hubble to perform additional maneuvers and gyro mode switches, which appear to have cleared the issue.

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The planet Mars is shown May 12, 2016 in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope view when it was 50 million miles from Earth. VOA

The rotation rates produced by the backup gyro have since reduced and are now within an expected range, NASA noted.

Also Read: New Gamma-Ray Collection Named After Hulk, Godzilla: NASA

The team plans to execute a series of tests to evaluate the performance of the gyro under conditions similar to those encountered during routine science observations, including moving to targets, locking on to a target, and performing precision pointing.

After these engineering tests have been completed, Hubble is expected to soon return to normal science operations, NASA stated. (IANS)