Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity

By Phil Plait | December 24, 2010 7:00 am

The line between amateur and professional astronomer has always been thin. I know professionals who have no idea how to use a telescopes (theoreticians, usually*), and amateurs who know every nebula in the sky and take pictures of them indistinguishable from those taken at big observatories.

Case in point: Damian Peach, who, in September, traveled to Barbados to observe Jupiter. It was around then that the dance of their orbits brought our two planets as close as they get, so Jupiter appears larger through a telescope. Damian also went to Barbados because Jupiter would be very high up in the sky, minimizing atmospheric disturbance.

Was it worth it? See for yourself. Using his observations, he made this video of Jupiter rotating over the course of several hours (make sure you set the resolution to 480 to see everything there):

Holy Zeus!

That is just about the finest imagery of Jupiter from the ground I have ever seen! Look at the detail: the Great Red Spot, the string of brownish storms just above and trailing behind it, the white ovals, the whorls and streamers of air separating the horizontal banding. It’s breathtaking. And there’s this overwhelming three-dimensionality to it, a powerful sense that this is a giant planet. It’s simply stunning.


To get this phenomenal animation, Damian used a trick well-known among astrophotographers now, too: video cameras take very short exposures, which essentially freezes out the microturbulence in the Earth’s air, preserving the finest detail that is otherwise smeared out. By looking at individual still frames you can pick the ones that are the best, then string them together to make a video like the one above.

Here’s an individual image Damian took of Jupiter:

[Click to enjovianate.]

Wow! See those two moons? The one on the upper right is Ganymede, and on the lower left is Io. You can clearly see surface details on them! That’s amazing. When I was younger, astronomers would’ve dreamed of getting pictures like this from the ground. Now, with good equipment, it’s possible for anyone to do it…. if they put in the time and effort, and have patience. I strongly urge you to check out Damian’s other Jupiter shots, as well as all his astrophotography.

Tip o’ the dew shield to Max Alexander.



* Not that there’s anything wrong with that: I’m terrible at vector calculus, so we all have our cross-product to bear.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (38)

  1. Will

    Wow, that video really drives home how fast it spins.

  2. I don’t have an eye for this stuff but it looks like the image is masked. Not implying that there is anything wrong with that or that it makes it a “photoshop”.

    The reason I say that is the edges of Jupiter are kind of pixely and there is no wobble at all. Seems like that would be very difficult to achieve without an extremely heavy telescope (tons).

  3. Messier Tidy Upper

    Astonishing. Just. Astonishing.
    Oh & MAGNIFICENT too. :-)

    We have, indeed, made remarkable progress since the “early” Pioneer 10 & 11 and Voyager 1 & 2 days.

    Just compare that top ground-based “amateur” image with say this one :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pioneer_10_-_Ganymede_-_P102a.jpg

    From Pioneer 10 back in 1973. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_10 )

    Or this one :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pioneer_f12.gif

    From the Pioneer 11 spaceprobe approaching the planet in December 1974. [Long appreciative whistle.]

    Sometimes I think we’re just not making any advances at all but then I see stuff like this & my jaw drops. 8)

    My only caveats there – think of the modern computers & digital image enhancing and manipulating techniques that we have today but those unlucky souls in the past didn’t and what we can do with them.

    Oh, one other thing too; has something rather extreme just happened to Big Jove’s axial tilt or what!? ;-)

    That noted :

    Marvellous, superluminous work. A huge thankyou to Damian Peach from me & to the BA also – & please, Dr Phil Plait, please don’t overlook this for the next “Top Ten / Fifteen best images” one you make! ;-)

    To both of them & to everybody else reading here as well I wish y’all have a great enjoyable and merry December 25th whatever and whether you celebrate! :-)

  4. Messier Tidy Upper

    PS. BA love the Holst reference & timing of that song title.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nz0b4STz1lo

    I hadn’t thought of this as a yuletide carol before – but I do now! ;-)

    Incidentally, in a rather amusing twist guess what piece of classical music was used as the theme to a David Attenborough nature documentary titled ‘Earth’ that was shown on Aussie TV some years ago? Yes, Holst’s Jupiter as heard above! ;-)

  5. Elgee

    What are the pockmarks in the upper middle third of Jupiter, right below the top band? The little black spots?

  6. TMB

    Amazing movie!

    I’d say the difference between amateur and professional astronomers isn’t about how good images they can take, but what they do with them. If I get a great image of Jupiter and hang it on my wall, I’m being an amateur astronomer. If I use that image to determine how likely dust with different chemical compositions is to seed clouds, I’m being a professional astronomer. Even if I’m using the same image.

    [TMB]

  7. Daniel J. Andrews

    Marvelous shot! I’m in awe that he even got details on the moons too!

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    @6. TMB Says:

    I’d say the difference between amateur and professional astronomers isn’t about how good images they can take, but what they do with them. If I get a great image of Jupiter and hang it on my wall, I’m being an amateur astronomer. If I use that image to determine how likely dust with different chemical compositions is to seed clouds, I’m being a professional astronomer. Even if I’m using the same image.

    So .. what if someone takes an image of Jupiter like that, uses that image to determine how likely dust with different chemical compositions is to seed clouds and then goes and hangs it on their wall afterwards? Would that person be a professional or amateur astronomer? ;-)

  9. Elgee

    If you want to be pedantic, the difference between an amateur and a professional is simple: The professional gets paid, the amateur does not.

  10. MikeSaunders

    Oh my god, Jupiter fell over and can’t get up!

  11. alfaniner

    At first I thought Jupiter was rotating the wrong way. Then I remembered a telescope inverts the picture top to bottom so it is different from how it is usually shown.

  12. Jon Hanford

    Anyone remember seeing ‘movies’ shot (in real time) in the 1950′s using the 200 inch Hale telescope of Mars, Saturn & Jupiter? They were either black-and-white or faded color and obviously affected by local seeing (and looked rather awful compared to what I saw visually in 6-8 inch scopes).

    My attempts at planetary photography in the mid 70′s, using an 8 inch SCT, consisted of long series of exposures using as fine-grained film as possible (longish exposures would be hopelessly blurred from atmospheric turbulence), using afocal methods (via eyepieces & extension tubes). I would sometimes try to stack negatives of the sharpest frames in my enlarger, or make a internegative of a couple of exposures to print from. No AO, no Registax, etc. And lots of smelly, messy chemicals in my small darkroom to deal with (I even dabbled in color print and color slide work). My best planetary images looked no better than what I could see visually in a 2 inch refractor. Now anyone can easily manipulate images in ‘digital darkrooms’ and apply sharpening, stacking, contrast enhancement, etc. with a few keystrokes (yeah, I know good results from digital cameras take time & patience to get the best results).

    So hats off to todays breed of astroimagers. You guys have no idea what you missed prior to the digital revolution (and I wish I could expunge memories of hypering Tech-Pan film and manually guiding 3+ hour exposures in the dead of Winter). :)

  13. Tom

    I’m so disgusted with those guys that find holes in the atmosphere. It’s not fair!

  14. Joseph G

    Jaw, meet Ms. Floor. Ms. Floor, met Mr. Jaw.
    Criminy, it looks like a computer model of Jupiter!! Wha… how….
    *brain asplode*

  15. Joseph G

    @#12 John Halford: My hat’s off to you children of the analog age :) Sounds like astronomy used to be even more an endurance sport then it is now.

  16. Jim Johnson

    Not to nit-pick too much, but… wouldn’t “The bringer of joviality” have been more appropriate? Or was that the point of the joke in the first place?

  17. Spad31

    MERRY CHRISTMAS PHIL!

  18. Elna

    Is there clarity about why the one belt is missing? The raging storm eye looks lonely :p

  19. Becca Stareyes

    Jim@17, it’s a music reference. Look up Holst’s “The Planets”.

  20. Rex Veritas

    “….their orbits brought our two planets as close as they get, so Jupiter APPEARS larger through a telescope.” (emphasis added)
    It doesn’t just ‘appear’ larger in the telescope, the image IS bigger because the planets are closer together. I know this may be a fine symantic point, but it’s irritating when people can’t use the english laguage properly.

  21. TMB

    @8 Messier:
    Heheh… I’d say they’re both! :) No reason that they need to be exclusive, and lots of professional astronomers are also great amateur astronomers! And, with things like AAVSO, some amateurs are also doing things that are what I’d consider professional astronomy.

  22. Anchor

    #2 CaffeenMan says, “I don’t have an eye for this stuff but it looks like the image is masked. Not implying that there is anything wrong with that or that it makes it a “photoshop”. The reason I say that is the edges of Jupiter are kind of pixely and there is no wobble at all. Seems like that would be very difficult to achieve without an extremely heavy telescope (tons).”

    You have a good eye. The movie was assembled from a ‘map’ of Jupiter which Peach assembled from his best shots, and digitally ‘projected’ them onto an oblate spheroid to obtain a full 360-degree rotation. The projection of the map is smoothly uniform in illumination across the whole longitudinal (east-west) swath, so while the polar regions look normally limb-darkened, the edges of the planet near the equator must necessarily be exhibited without limb-darkening, which any single shot would typically reveal. Hence the reason for the apparent ‘pixely-cropped’ look of the equatorial limb. (in fact, it’s possible to reintroduce an artifical mask that mimicks limb-darkening for the equatorial limb, but doing that is difficult to pull off and would actually introduce an artificial artifact that would be less ‘real’ than the map composed of a composite of many images). It’s also why the movie has no ‘wobble’, since all the projections are perfectly registered in the process. Full rotation movies with such high uniform resolution would be very difficult if not impossible to obtain in a single night’s observing on the ground with Jupiter anywhere high enough in elevation above the horizon to keep the resolution uniformly high: even it’s swift 8-hour period can’t be squeezed into a single nominal 10-hour observing night (‘astronomically dark’ without twilight) with Jupiter near opposition. Peach reports he obtained his results when Jupiter climbed above 75-degrees above the horizon, so that there were at most only a few hours available to obtain high-res shots on any given night. Check out the first link Phil provides in the article for the mapping and dozens of other wonderful shots Peach obtained on that trip.

    His work, by the way, is superb. These images are superior to any I’m aware of acquired by professional ground-based work. To see that sort of detail on Io and Ganymede from the ground is nothing short of startling.

  23. Rex Veritas (22): Oh, grammar Nazis. Is there nothing you can’t make ironic?

    First, I said the planet appears larger. That is in fact true. If I had said the image appears larger, that would’ve been silly, because the image would actually be larger. But since Jupiter remained the same size, what I said was correct.

    Also, you misspelled “language”.

  24. Crux Australis

    Wow. Just, wow. And a great way to end my celebrations of Newtonmas.

  25. Buzz Parsec

    BA (25) … and semantic. ;-)

    Sorry, Rex. There’s a law about posting about grammatical errors and it bit you twice. :-(

    (Symantec is a software company. Symantic isn’t anything.)

  26. “Look at the detail: the Great Red Spot, the string of brownish storms just above and trailing behind it, the white ovals, the whorls and streamers of air separating the horizontal banding.”

    Don’t forget the monoliths!
    You can even see them grouping if you freeze frame the video!

  27. Jupiter is an awesome planet!
    I only we had a 100m IR space telescope, we could find more and would be awesome too.

  28. raceface

    I think we should abandon stupid manned spacecraft to boring places like moon and mars and focus on robotic spacecraft to go get a closer look at this beauty right here! jupiter is clearly the most awesome planet – just look at it! my mind is so many degrees of blown right now.

  29. Nigel Depledge

    Jim Johnson (17) said:

    Not to nit-pick too much, but… wouldn’t “The bringer of joviality” have been more appropriate? Or was that the point of the joke in the first place?

    I think you’ve got that backwards.

    The word “jovial” means what it does because of Jupiter’s (Jove’s) association with jollity.

  30. My edited comment was market as spam?

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