November 25th, 2010
10:51 AM ET

NASA: Stripe that disappeared on Jupiter coming back

A three-color composite image shows a belt that had previously vanished in Jupiter's atmosphere is now getting a bit darker and seems to be reappearing.

One of Jupiter's stripes that "disappeared" last spring is reappearing - and the disappearance was apparently an illusion created by Jupiter's atmosphere, NASA scientists said.

Scientists noticed earlier this year that the longstanding dark-brown stripe, called the South Equatorial Belt, had turned white, essentially disappearing. Researchers with NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory telescope began studying the phenomenon and found the answer likely lies in a cloud deck made up of white ammonia ice that basically obscured the ring.

"Every few decades or so,  the South Equatorial Belt turns completely white for perhaps one to three years, an event that has puzzled scientists for decades," NASA said in a press release.

NASA said that "extreme change" has only been seen on that particular stripe, making it unique for Jupiter and all of our solar system.

"The reason Jupiter seemed to 'lose' this band - camouflaging itself among the surrounding white bands - is that the usual downwelling winds that are dry and keep the region clear of clouds died down," said Glenn Orton, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "One of the things we were looking for in the infrared was evidence that the darker material emerging to the west of the bright spot was actually the start of clearing in the cloud deck, and that is precisely what we saw."

For scientists, the development is a step toward understanding more about the planet's atmosphere. It also marks the first time, according to NASA, that modern instruments have been used to understand the chemical and dynamic changes of the phenomenon.

And it could mean big things for future NASA missions.

"Observing this event carefully may help to refine the scientific questions to be posed by NASA's Juno spacecraft, due to arrive at Jupiter in 2016, and a larger, proposed mission to orbit Jupiter and explore its satellite Europa after 2020," NASA said.

soundoff (152 Responses)
  1. Jamfs

    When the super volcano known as Yellowstone Park blows it has the potential to blow us into hell and back. It's overdue for an eruption. Last time it blew was about 640000 years ago. It blows about every 600000 years. Maybe we don't have another Billion years?
    At least the missing stripe isn't on our backs as we live amongst all these rocks.
    (When I get to Heaven I'm gonna ask the Lord–Hey! Wuddup with all da rocks?)

    November 26, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • David, Tampa

      I live in Florida..so no problem with Yellowstone. Could cause the crappy state of Indiana a bit of a problem though. Poor righties would have to do all of their 15yo girls real quick!

      November 28, 2010 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. bobby

    wow jamgs what does that have to do with this article?

    November 26, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bobby

    im just going to say one thing. If a black hole would replace our sun, it wouldnt "suck" all the planets into it. We would just orbit around it like usual. I suggest you understand more on what u guys commennt about.

    November 26, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. David, Tampa

    Pete bet his life savings on the Lions over the Pats....Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm I hope he had a small piggy bank!

    November 28, 2010 at 2:02 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7