Emily LakdawallaJul 24, 2015

Jupiter's changing face, 2009-2015

Jupiter has got to be one of the most rewarding targets in the sky for amateur astrophotographers. Its disk is very colorful, and its giant moons are colorful too. From night to night you can watch the moons move, and occasionally you'll see them cast dark shadows on Jupiter's disk. If your telescope and camera are powerful enough, you can discern fine patterns in Jupiter's clouds, and watch the details change from night to night. If you're patient enough to watch Jupiter year over year, you can see dramatic changes in the colors, positions, and behaviors of its clouds.

Damian Peach is an astrophotographer who's been following Jupiter for many years. He recently returned from his eighth observing trip to Barbados, and shared his photos of Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon with the world. Here are views of Jupiter that he has shot over the last six oppositions (seven years), from 2009 to 2015.

Jupiter's changing face, 2009-2015
Jupiter's changing face, 2009-2015 All of these photos were taken by amateur astronomer Damian Peach. Each row represents one year; the two photos show approximately opposing hemispheres of Jupiter. Top row: September 10 and 7, 2009, from Barbados. Second row: September 12 and 15, 2010, from Barbados. Third row: October 1 and December 27, 2011, from Selsey. Fourth row: December 27 and November 21, 2012, from Selsey. Fifth row: December 29 and 1, 2013, from Hampstead. Sixth row: February 26 and March 2, from Barbados.Image: © Damian Peach

The most obvious change in the series is the one that took place over the winter of 2009: the disappearance of one of Jupiter's red belts. But pick a belt, any belt, and look for it in opposition after opposition and you'll see there's a lot of other change happening. This year, the Great Red Spot, although small, is much darker than it has been in past years, while Oval BA (the little red spot) is very, very pale. Here's another nice photo of Jupiter from Peach's latest trip:

Jupiter and Ganymede on March 10, 2015
Jupiter and Ganymede on March 10, 2015 Taken from Barbados. The Great Red Spot continued to shrink in 2015 but was redder than in recent past years. The turbulent region to the west of the Great Red Spot was smaller than in past years.Image: Damian Peach

Amateur astronomers like Peach make valuable contributions to Jupiter science, monitoring the planet with much higher temporal frequency than professional astronomers can. Amateur astrophotographers contribute their work to a public database called the Planetary Virtual Observatory and Laboratory; professionals mine that database for time-series of photos that show them how belts and storms are behaving, and help them predict their future behavior and paths. The contributions of amateurs will be crucial for the Juno mission, which will be using Junocam to take high-resolution photos of Jupiter's atmosphere around its closest approach to the planet. Junocam mission planners will rely upon amateur astronomers' monitoring of Jupiter's clouds to help them choose where to target these high-resolution photos.

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