Amateur astronomer discovers a brand new spot on Jupiter

Georgina Torbet
·2-min read

Jupiter may be best known for its “eye,” also known as the Great Red Spot, but this is just one of many enormous spots on its surface. Now, the eye has been joined by a new surface feature, discovered by an amateur astronomer.

The famous Great Red Spot can be seen in the upper left of the image, and in the middle is the new feature which has not been observed before. It was first spotted by Clyde Foster of Centurion, South Africa, who noticed it while looking at Jupiter through his telescope using a filter sensitive to the absorption of methane gas. Two days later, on June 2, NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew near the area and was able to image the spot in beautiful detail. In honor of its discoverer, the feature has been named “Clyde’s Spot.”

This image from NASA’s Juno spacecraft captures several storms in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere
This image from NASA’s Juno spacecraft captures several storms in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. Some of these storms, including the Great Red Spot at the upper left, have been churning in the planet’s atmosphere for many years, but when Juno obtained this view of Jupiter, the smaller, oval-shaped feature at the center of the image was brand new. Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Kevin M. Gill © CC BY

NASA’s Juno team believes that the spot is a cloud of material erupting through the upper layers of the atmosphere, which happens periodically at this particular latitude.

This image was created by citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill, using the data from the Juno spacecraft’s JunoCam. Members of the public can download raw JunoCam images and do their own image processing, and are invited to upload their images to the Juno website.

According to NASA, Gill’s image above is “a map projection that combines five JunoCam images taken on June 2, 2020, between 3:56 a.m. PDT (6:56 a.m. EDT) and 4:25 a.m. PDT (7:25 a.m. EDT). At the time the images were taken, Juno was between about 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) and 59,000 miles (95,000 kilometers) from the planet’s cloud tops at latitudes of between about 48 degrees and 67 degrees south.”

The Juno spacecraft was launched in 2011 and arrived in orbit around Jupiter in 2016. In its time it has had to perform some dramatic maneuvers to keep its mission going, having originally been planned to operate only until 2018. With its extended lifespan, the mission is continuing to gather data about Jupiter including information about its atmosphere, composition, and chaotic magnetic field.