Incredible high-resolution video of Jupiter

By Phil Plait | November 18, 2011 7:00 am

The Pic du Midi observatory in France is renowned for its very stable atmospheric conditions, allowing high resolution pictures to be taken. Our air commonly blurs out finer details of astronomical objects; there are ways to compensate, but it’s nice to not have to worry about it in the first place.

So pictures of the planets taken from the 2800-meter-elevation observatory are surpassingly beautiful. I was searching online for some Jupiter info yesterday, and stumbled on a video of the King of the Planets made using observations from Pic du Midi from October 10 – 15, 2001, and, well, it’s stunning. See for yourself:

WOW. Make sure you set the resolution to 720.

I love how it feels like you’re floating over Jupiter as it spins beneath you! Of course, the Great Red Spot is visible, as well as many other circular and highly-elliptical storms. Jupiter is huge, 140,000 km (86,000 miles) across — 11 times the diameter of the Earth. So even in this high-res video, the smallest features you’re seeing are hundreds of kilometers wide!

Despite its enormous size, Jupiter’s day is only about ten hours long. In this video, the bulk motion you see is the planet rotating on its axis, but it’s essentially impossible to see any movement in the clouds themselves. Incredibly, those storms are swept along for hundreds of thousands of kilometers as the planet spins, but in that short time the structure of the clouds hardly changes at all. It’s a study in contrasting velocity.

Right now, Jupiter rises in the east at sunset, making it available all night for observing. When I was in Texas earlier this week the UTPA astronomy folks had some telescopes set up, and Jupiter was a favorite target. All four Galilean moons were visible, and the planet itself showed beautiful detail. If you get a chance to see it through a telescope over the next couple of months, take it! You won’t regret it.

Credit : S2P/IMCCE/OPM/JL Dauvergne/Elie Rousset/Eric Meza/Philippe Tosi/François Colas/Jean Pajus/Xavi Nogués/Emil Kraaikamp

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (24)

  1. Why is it that at 0:18, 0:30, 0:42, 0:55, and 1:08 there’s a blurry line running from north to south?

  2. Chris P


    Id say that since Jupiter’s rotation period is about ten hours there’s no way you could view a whole rotation, or two as in this video, from a single point on earth, as our night simply isn’t that long. The video must be edited together from several nights’ viewing. The blurry line will be the point at which different shots were ‘stitched’ together.
    Very well done if you ask me.

  3. Joseph G

    Pic du Midi? That explains the music 😀

  4. Joseph G

    I feel a sense of deja vu, like Phil posted the same video months ago. Am I nuts? I have been pulling an all-nighter, that might ‘splain it.
    I just noticed that the video title says “Jupiter map”. I’m not clear, are these photos of Jupiter, or a 3D model of Jupiter constructed from observation data?

  5. Just beautiful. Thank you for posting these.

  6. Daniel J. Andrews

    I liked the almost three dimensional look of the video. Very sharp.

    Jupiter’s moons can easily be seen with a good pair of binoculars. My 8.5x Swarvoski bins pick them out sharply. And apparently you can see at least one moon with naked eye providing 1) you block out the light of Jupiter with a foreground object, 2) the moon is furthest out from Jupiter at the time, and 3) you are slightly sharp-sighted (or perfect vision with no astigmatism).

  7. Yes, it’s multiple night’s data. BTW, the images were taken in 2011, not 2001. It is real images mapped to a 3-D globe using the powerful (and free) program WinJUPOS.

  8. Finally got around to breaking out my ‘scope the other night to take a gander at the moon and Jupiter. The weather was nice: not too cold, clear skies. Lots of light pollution, though. For my viewing, Jupiter was a somewhat fuzzy pale dot with a dark line close to, but just off of the equator and a darkish smudge in one spot. Not sure if it was just my viewing conditions or my lack of familiarity with the ‘scope yet that made for the somewhat less than impressive view, especially compared to this video!

    Still exciting, though.

  9. Blargh

    @Joseph G:

    I feel a sense of deja vu, like Phil posted the same video months ago. Am I nuts? I have been pulling an all-nighter, that might ‘splain it.

    You’re thinking of this one:

  10. Another Eric

    I was viewing Jupiter through our home telescope last week. I could just make out some bands and saw four moons. Now I wish I had a bigger telescope!

  11. Trebuchet

    Is the series of white spots in the lower hemisphere (not sure if that’s N or S) something leftover from the comet strike all those years ago?

  12. Adrian Lopez

    Here’s a video showing the clouds moving, from Voyager 1 (1979):

    … and one where you can see some of Jupiter’s moons as it rotates, giving the video a more three-dimensional feel:

  13. By Jove that is a beautiful compilation video made by an earth bound telescope.
    Hope to view Jupiter this weekend with my old 8″ SCT . Hopefully the snow stays away and we get some good seeing sky.

  14. Multiple nights might explain why I didn’t see any of the moons zip by, particularly Io. Fantastic work though.

  15. Arthur Maruyama

    @ Trebuchet:

    Not likely. While those white spots are about in the same band as the impacts made by Shoemaker-Levy in 1994, the general phenomenon of the white spots long preceded that impact (for example: they can be seen in that Jovian band in pictures taken by the two Voyagers in 1979). At best comet and asteroid impacts seem to be very transient staining the Jovian atmosphere as long as a couple of weeks. Even the smaller storms which include the white spots generally last in the range of 1-3 years so all of them that we see now on Jupiter probably were not there at the time of the Shoemaker-Levy impact.

    Just FYI: the Great Red Spot is in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere–I had to check that because for some reason I always think of it as being in its northern hemisphere (yeah, yeah, my bias is showing).

  16. Crux Australis

    Someone please remind…what causes limb darkening?

  17. Manuel

    That video gave me a sense of deja vu since I saw exactly what was shown at 0:56 through my scope just a few days before the opposition. It was my best view ever of Jupiter since the seeing was good enough to support over 200x.

  18. Trebuchet

    Arthur Maruyama: Thanks! I was confused over N vs S because although we typically put North at the top when picturing Earth, astronomical telescopes generally invert the image.

  19. Brian Too

    Is it my imagination or are the clouds moving faster at the equator than at the poles? I don’t mean by way of the greater circumference found at the equator either.

    It looks as though, if you drew a set of longitude lines on the planet, the equatorial clouds would pass over them faster than those at the poles.

    But I could just be woozy.

  20. Infinite123Lifer

    What a privelage.

  21. icemith

    “Wholly Jupiter, Batman!”

    “By Jove.”

  22. Infinite123Lifer


    What a privilege.

  23. Arthur Maruyama

    @ Brian Too:

    It’s not your imagination, although it is a bit hard to discern since the equatorial zone is relatively featureless and thus is hard to track. It is a bit easier to track the Great Red Spot (GRS) as it comes over the western edge and compare it to a white spot which happens to be almost directly south of the GRS center at that time. As the GRS reaches the eastern edge, that same white spot is distinctly behind even the dark disruption zone surrounding the GRS.

    On the other hand, the Jovian atmosphere has a lot of relative movement as can be seen on this graph showing the speeds of its different zones compared to the poles as detected by the Voyagers and Cassini (yes, made during its gravitational boost in 2000 on its way to Saturn):

    although by my reckoning from this graph the GRS–which happens to be at the slowest point of this graph–should have been dropping behind that particular white spot.


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