Jupiter hitching up its belt?

By Phil Plait | November 22, 2010 2:00 pm

As I’ve written about several times, a few months ago Jupiter lost one of its belts. Normally there are two dark, wide bands of clouds framing its equator, but the southern one disappeared recently. It’s happened before, and the cause isn’t well-understood (I favor the idea that it sinks a bit, and a layer of opaque clouds flow over it, hiding it from view). It always re-appears sometime later.

jupiter_belt_reappearAnd that seems to be happening now. As my pal Emily Lakdawalla reports on The Planetary Society blog, there are odd atmospheric phenomena occurring where the belt should be, and they appear to be on the rise. In the picture here (from Emily’s blog; go there to get an enjovianted version) I’ve arrowed the outbreaks, which appear as a series of comma-shaped dark clouds. If true, this could be the harbinger of Jupiter’s belt resurfacing.

I hope so, actually. If we can point some big ol’ ‘scopes at the planet while this happens, maybe we can figure out what the heck can cause a raging storm wider than the Earth to suddenly drop out of sight for months or years at a time!

This may actually do something otherwise difficult, too: it’s inspiring me to haul my own telescope out of the garage to give Big Jupe a look-see. If the belt’s coming back, I want to make sure I can see it while it’s still gone. Plus, with friends and family visiting for Thanksgiving this week, it’s a great time to show them the sky (though cold here in Boulder). It’s very odd to see Jupiter with one off-balance belt; I’ve observed the planet hundreds of times since I was a kid and I always expect to see the two dark bands surrounding the lighter colored equator. If and when the belt comes back, who knows when it’ll go away again?

Image credit: Teruaki Kumamori, Sakai City, Osaka, Japan

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (32)

Links to this Post

  1. Júpiter rearma su cinturón. | Pablo Della Paolera | November 22, 2010
  1. So many things to learn right here in our cosmic back yard. What fun!

  2. Minos

    Those “atmosheric phenomena” look awfully dark. Maybe the monoliths are finally getting to work? They’ve only got a month before their deadline.

  3. Bob

    Phil – what scope do you have in your garage?

  4. Denis

    Hey Phil! You made it to the last Symphony of Science – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PT90dAA49Q :)

  5. Bill

    Cue Hoaglund nutbaggery in 5, 4, 3…

  6. How much luck will you have looking at Jupiter with the moon nearly full?

    I would try m’self if I hadn’t given my telescope to my nephew when I moved to a part of downtown Atlanta so light polluted I can barely see any stars at all.

  7. RAF

    Holy crap…Jupiter lost one of it’s belts?….why isn’t this on the nightly news???

    As always, I blame the Republicans. :)

  8. RAF

    Phil – what scope do you have in your garage?

    I imagine it is the one that BAUT poster Tracer so graciously gave him at one of his “talks”….I know because I was there when he gave it to him. :)

  9. Douglas Troy

    It’s obviously a planetary smilie aimed at Earth …


  10. Utakata

    …all this time I was betting a monolith of some sort ate it. >.>

  11. Aleksandar

    Just more reasons why keeping a orbiter at Jupiter would be really nice. Its depressing to think of all the probes that could have been payed by money wasted on canceled Ares rockets. Personally I’m really strongly supportive of manned space flight, but still there is so much that could be done right now with unmanned probes if the money was there.

  12. andy

    Personally I’m really strongly supportive of manned space flight, but still there is so much that could be done right now with unmanned probes if the money was there.

    Agreed, if the money was there we could throw it at the seemingly bottomless money-sinks that are the Mars Science Laboratory and the James Webb Space Telescope. It is not only the manned space programme that causes budget problems…

  13. Radwaste

    Gee. You guys don’t know about Phil’s 12-inch Dobsonian?

  14. Jupiter is the fourth brightest natural object in the sky, so the Moon can be right next to it and it still looks good.

    For those asking, I have a 12.5″ Dobsonian. Not the best optics, but it’ll do.

  15. From that picture, that can’t possibly be southern belt that’s missing!

    Everyone knows that North is always toward the top of the picture. I mean, otherwise, the picture would be upside-down!

    EDIT: RAF, you were there too? Darn, I don’t remember the other folks that were there that night. You must not’ve been wearing a hat that said “RAF” on it, for ease of identification. (I’ll have to dig up the old t-shirt I had made in the 1980s that said “TRACER” across the abdomen.)

  16. John Paradox

    Come on now, everyone knows that this Thursday is (USA) Thanksgiving, when many a belt gets lost or loosened.


  17. ChH

    I just realized …
    Someone needs to do a parody of Aerosmith’s “Big 10 Inch Record” as “Dr Phil’s Big 12.5 Inch Dobsonian”.

  18. 5. Bill Says:
    November 22nd, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Cue Hoaglund nutbaggery in 5, 4, 3..

    I didn’t think Hoaglands Nuttery extended to Jupiter? Thought it ended at Mars.

  19. Monkey

    Nutbaggery knows no bounds…

  20. Yeebok Shu'in

    I must admit with Jupiter so (relatively) close as well, I suggest it’s a perfect time for it to happen.
    I have an 8″ cheapish Dob with a good quality eyepiece and I can pretty much walk outside and be able to see details within a few minutes, even tho I am very almost 40. I think the scope is 1.08m focal and 24mm (45x) and with 2x barlow (90x).

  21. Grant Gordon

    I bought my first scope less than a year ago so I’ve only ever seen Jupiter with the one belt. If it is resurfacing, I’m very excited to be able to see both belts :)

  22. Pete Jackson

    Don’t you mean “Jupiter hitching up his belt”? After all, the planets definitely have sexes, with Earth, Venus and Jupiter being feminine and the rest masculine. The Moon, too is feminine while the Sun is masculine.

  23. Gary Ansorge

    If Jup lost his belt, what happened to his pants? Did he lose them at a Dead show?

    12. andy

    “seemingly bottomless money-sinks that are the Mars Science Laboratory and the James Webb Space Telescope”

    That’s the problem with cutting edge technology, the ultimate cost is never accurately known. If we knew in advance how much they’d cost, it would be because the tech was tried and true but tried and true doesn’t gain us much insight.

    Gary 7

  24. Pete Jackson

    Sorry, in No. 24, I meant Earth, Venus, and Neptune being feminine. What a stupid typo!

  25. ChH

    Neptune is feminine?

  26. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ chH : Not as far as I’m aware.

    Namesake mythologically speaking, our Moon, Luna or Selene, is female, Venus is female as is Demeter / Gaia / Earth. Pluto is male as are Neptune, Ouranos – albeit a castrated old male, Saturn, Jove, Mars (natch!), Mercury and our Sun otherwise known as Helios.

    Including those worlds in the broader, better ( 😉 ) definition of planet, Ceres is a goddess as are Eris, Haumea (and her daughters and moons), Sedna and Vesta. Makemake is male as are Varuna, Orcus and Huya.

    @15. Phil Plait Says:

    Jupiter is the fourth brightest natural object in the sky

    After our Sun, our Moon, and Venus I presume, right?

    Although it needs a disclaimer or two there of

    – speaking in terms of apparent magnitude rather than intrinsic absolute luminosity

    *usually* – aside from the odd nearby supernovae, very nearby novae and Great Comets which can temporarily exceed those in brightness. 😉

  27. Messier Tidy Upper

    PS. Ran out of editing time to add that Quaoar is a male god, “Buffy” (2004 XR190) is a demi-goddess / heroine and I’m not sure what you’d call 2002 TC302! 😉

    Incidentally, there are at least a few dieties whose gender is intersex (hermaphrodite) or indeterminate so if any ice dwarfs or smaller planets get named after them it could make things interesting too! 😉

  28. Messier Tidy Upper

    @12. andy :

    It is not only the manned space programme that causes budget problems…

    Hear, hear! It is NOT the relatively minuscule amount of money being invested in space exploration – manned and unmanned, space science or science generally that is the problem.

    It is the colossal amounts of money that get wasted on *other* things and *other* areas that could be much better spent with much greater returns and much higher benefits for everybody if only that wasted money was directed into space exploration and science generally.

    @7. RAF Says:

    As always, I blame the Republicans.

    Meanwhile the Republicans here will blame the Democrats for it and others with political blinkers off and brains on have the better sense to blame either *all* politicians or *no* politicans. Because politicans .. bah! 😉

    (Yeah, I take it you were jokin’ there but still ..)

  29. Jeremy C

    “What’s happening at Jupiter?”

    “Something… Wonderful.”


  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Jeremy C : Yes! Its got its belt back by Jove! 😉

    See :


    For the latest on this via this very blog. :-)


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