Monday, November 15, 2010

The Difference Between Clouds And Conquistadors

A prominent, brownish stripe in Jupiter's southern hemisphere that vanished completely in May could soon return, suggest photographs taken by amateur astronomers.

Jupiter normally has two prominent dark bands, one in each hemisphere. But in May it became clear that the southern equatorial belt (SEB) had completely disappeared.

Now, several amateur astronomers have photographed a small white dot above where the SEB used to be. They say it's a sign that the stripe may be making a comeback.

"It might not look like much, but this is how a revival of the SEB begins - a small disturbance in the upper atmosphere heralds a much larger profusion of spots and swirls bursting forth around the whole circumference of the giant planet. Amid the confusion, Jupiter's vast brown stripe emerges," reports

"Small disturbances like this one are an omen of more spots and swirls to come, ultimately reviving the great brown stripe," reports Wired.

It's still not clear whether the stripe will return completely. "Will this outbreak fully revive the SEB? Time will tell," amateur astronomer Christopher Go, who took one of the shots, told Wired.

The discovery is the latest in a string of recent finds by hobbyist astronomers. For example, since July 2009, amateurs have captured three instances of an object striking Jupiter. Prior to that, only one definite case of such a strike was known.

Is Jupiter's lost stripe making a comeback?
New Scientist, 12 November 2010

I’ve written a lot about Jupiter the last couple of years. A lot has been happening out there. There have been interesting space probes, impacts from comets and asteroids and just a few months ago the whole southern equatorial cloud belt (SEB) on the planet disappeared.

Now the southern equatorial cloud belt might be reappearing.

A few days ago a bright spot appeared at the latitude of the SEB. Then the white spot changed and became discolored by blue filaments which seem to be spreading out. Astronomers suspect the blue discolorations will spread and deepen in color as the predominately brown SEB re-forms.

One of the interesting things about this cloud business on Jupiter is the scale involved. Jupiter is very large. Wolfram Alpha can generate a size comparison of the Earth and Jupiter:

The white spot that appeared is roughly the size of the Earth! Imagine the physics that must be going on out there to have visible, physical changes of this size appearing and changing on a day-to-day timeframe.

Almost certainly this is the southern equatorial belt reappearing.

But it sure would be more interesting if this turned out to be the start of an ignition event.

All The Sunlight Is For Laughing I wrote. I haven’t had a lot to laugh about lately. There would be nothing funny, of course, in Jupiter turning into a small star, a binary companion to the Sun. But it would be wonderful, in the classic meaning of the word, full-of-wonder.

It’s easy to forget that the universe is full of wonder, even without Jupiter somehow turning into a star. And even if you know the universe is full of wonder, it’s easy for all the grotesque, day-to-day awfulness of the modern world to darken your heart.

Jupiter is already a bright spot in the darkness surrounding us. It would be cool if Jupiter became even brighter. We need all the light we can get.

The clouds of Jupiter are changing.
It’s not the kind of thing you notice
unless you point a medium-sized
telescope at Jupiter and look.
Or if you check pop science web sites.

More people, I suspect, are aware
Demi Lovato is in rehab —
another Disney princess destroyed —
than know or care about Jupiter
and the changes in Jupiter’s clouds.

I wish Jupiter’s clouds could come here
like conquistadors and change things here
like conquistadors changed the Aztecs.
Clouds can’t protect anybody’s heart
from monsters who need a sacrifice.

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