Just on the heels of the confirmation of water ice on the moon's poles, comes another celestial announcement regarding this life-sustaining element. H2O it seems is also present on Jupiter, deep in the gas giant's atmosphere, hiding behind a hurricane-like storm.
This intense spinning anticyclonic storm has been known for years as Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Featuring tumultuous winds peaking at about 400 mph, the tempestuous persistent storm has been estimated to be wildly raging over Jupiter’s skies for at least the past 150 years.
Concealing the presence of water
Now, a new study has revealed the super weather event may have also been concealing the presence of water. A team led by Gordon L. Bjoraker, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, has been looking at the Great Red Spot's wavelengths sensitive to thermal radiation through ground-based telescopes.
What they detected has the science community very excited. Chemical signatures belonging to water were spotted above the red planet's deepest clouds indicating the presence of the element.
Further analyzing the pressure of the water, along with their measurements of carbon monoxide, led Bjoraker's team to deduce that Jupiter has 2 to 9 times more oxygen than the sun. The findings support previous theoretical and computer-simulation models that have long stipulated the existence of abundant water on Jupiter.
There has also been other evidence to support these suspicions such as space missions that produced chemical proof that the gas giant had a core of rock and water ice before mixing with the solar nebula to create its current gaseous atmosphere. Factors such as the planet's abundance of lightning and thunder were also indicative of water-derivatives like moisture.
And there was also the planet's water-heavy moons. "The moons that orbit Jupiter are mostly water ice, so the whole neighborhood has plenty of water," said Bjoraker. "Why wouldn't the planet -- which is this huge gravity well, where everything falls into it -- be water rich, too?"
A new approach to water evidence
Bjoraker and his team used a unique approach to their hunt for water proof that combined 2017 radiation data from the summit of Maunakea in Hawaii with observations from the W.M. Keck Observatory infrared telescope and a new NASA instrument for detecting wider ranges of gases. They proceeded to analyze the light energy emitted through Jupiter's clouds to deduce the planet's temperature as well as other conditions that could determine the types of gases that can survive in those regions.
Previous studies had predicted that there are three cloud layers on Jupiter; a lower water-based one, a middle one consisting of ammonia and sulfur, and a top ammonia layer. The new research produced evidence of these three layers in Jupiter's Great Red Spot, with the deepest exhibiting the 5 bar water freezing temperature point.
"I say that we very likely found a water cloud," explained Bjoraker. The scientist's approach now needs to be further applied to other parts of the planet to get an estimate of Jupiter's global water abundance. Who knows what else might be discovered?