Visible and near-infrared imaging of the giant planets -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune -- probes the outermost layers of clouds in these gaseous atmospheres. Not only are the images beautiful and striking in their color and diversity of detail, they also provide quantitative clues to the dynamical and chemical processes taking place both at the cloud tops and deeper in the interior: zonal wind profiles can be extracted; wavelength-dependent center-to-limb brightness variations yield valuable data for modeling vertical aerosol structure; the presence of planetary-scale atmospheric waves can sometimes be deduced; variations of cloud color and brightness with latitude provide insight into the underlying mechanisms driving circulation; development and evolution of discrete atmospheric features trace both exogenic and endogenic events. During the 1980's, our understanding of the giant planets was revolutionized by detailed visible-wavelength images taken by the Voyager spacecraft of these planets' atmospheres. However, those images were static: brief snapshots in time of four complex and dynamic atmospheric systems. In short, those images no longer represent the current appearance of these planets. Recently, our knowledge of the atmospheres of the gas giant planets has undergone major new advances, due in part to the excellent imaging capability and longer-term temporal sampling of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the Galileo Mission to Jupiter. In this talk, I provide an update on our current understanding of the gas giants based on recent visible and near-infrared imaging, highlighting results from the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter, Saturn's White Spots, intriguing changes in the atmosphere of Uranus, and Neptune's peripatetic clouds.
AAS/Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting Abstracts #28
- Pub Date:
- September 1996