Hubble telescope beams back close-up of Jupiter

The new image adds to many others captured in the past

The Hubble Space Telescope has beamed back a close up image of Jupiter showing its famous Great Red Spot and several colourful bands, running parallel to the equator, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

The new image adds to many others captured in the past, and together they allow astronomers to study changes in the atmosphere of the gas giant.

This month, Jupiter is at its closest to the Earth and the hemisphere facing our planet is fully illuminated by the Sun.

The Hubble Space Telescope used this special configuration to capture an image of what is by far the largest planet in the Solar System.

On April 3, Hubble took advantage of this favourable alignment and turned its sharp eye towards Jupiter to add to the collection of images of our massive neighbour.

Hubble observed Jupiter using its Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which allows observations in ultraviolet, visible and infrared light.

The final image shows a sharp view of Jupiter and reveals a wealth of features in its dense atmosphere. As it is so close, Hubble can resolve features as small as about 130 kilometres across.

The surface of Jupiter is divided into several distinct, colourful bands, running parallel to the equator.

These bands are created by differences in the opacity of the clouds which have varying quantities of frozen ammonia in them; the lighter bands have higher concentrations than the darker bands.

The differing concentrations are kept separate by fast winds which can reach speeds of up to 650 kilometres per hour.

The most recognisable feature on Jupiter is the huge anticyclonic storm, called the Great Red Spot - this storm is large enough to engulf a whole Earth-sized planet at once.

However, as with the last images of Jupiter taken by Hubble and telescopes on the ground, this new image confirms that the huge storm which has raged on Jupiter's surface for at least 150 years continues to shrink.

Next to the Great Red Spot a much smaller storm can be seen at farther southern latitudes - dubbed "Red Spot Junior".

On April 7, Jupiter will come into opposition, the point at which the planet is located directly opposite the Sun in the sky. This means that the Sun, Earth and Jupiter line up, with Earth sitting in between the Sun and the gas giant.

Opposition also marks the planet's closest approach to Earth - about 670 million kilometres - so that Jupiter appears brighter in the night sky than at any other time in the year.

This event allows astronomers using telescopes in space and on the ground to see more detail in the atmosphere of Jupiter.

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