Bad Astronomy

Methanic Jupiter

Via Emily comes this totally incredible image of Jupiter:

Click it for the enormous 2300x3400 pixel image. Wow.

The New Horizons mission to Pluto used Jupiter for a gravity assist in February and took this image. It used a filter that lets in near-infrared light (specifically at 8900 Angstroms, just outside the range of the human eye) that is preferentially absorbed by methane gas. Jupiter has a lot of methane in its atmosphere, so this image is essentially a map of where the methane is: bright regions have only a little (the methane is thin and lets light out) and dark regions have a lot (more methane means more absorption of the light). Emily has more details at the link above, and you can learn stuff from it.

But it’s also OK just to sit back and marvel at the beauty of the solar system. And in case you’re curious: fully 5 Earths could fit across this image from the left hand part of Jupiter to the day/night dividing line on the right.