November 21, 2017

AstroEvent: The Return of the SEB?

Great Red Spot+SEB as seen from Astroguyz HQ. (Photo by Author).

 

   Followers of this column know that Jupiter has appeared rather odd during this years’ 2010 apparition. Specifically, the Southern Equatorial Belt, or SEB, vanished for the first time in the 21st century. This is not a unique or singular occurrence, as it happened no less than 12 times in the 20th century. It’s not completely understood why this happens, and why only the SEB is prone to this disappearing act and never its twin Northern Equatorial Belt. Now, there’s evidence that the SEB may be returning. Amateur monitoring has indicated that the submerged belt may be awakening, and this historically happens in grand fashion. Imagery from the last few weeks has confirmed this, and word is flying around the web that the SEB may be returning as this goes to cyber-press. Our own imagery and observations bear this out; for best effects use a red filter to see the SEB in hiding. Jupiter passed one of its best oppositions this fall, and is still well placed for evening viewing… expect white spots, swirls, and other activity as the largest planet in our solar system resumes its familiar text book appearance… be sure to get out and take a look!

The astronomical word for this week is methane. This greenhouse gas molecule composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogens arranged in tetrahedral fashion is one of the simplest alkanes and a key ingredient in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Although comprising about only 0.3%, methane band emissions can indicate cloud darkening and tell us if a layer or spot is lofted above or sinking below the cloud tops of Jupiter. Common on gas giant worlds due to abiotic processes, methane on Earth is a key indicator of life, specifically produced in bulk by bovine flatulence (i.e. cow farts). On worlds such as Titan and Mars, the presence of methane provides a tantalizing clue that perhaps some interesting organic chemistry may be afoot on these worlds. Will extraterrestrial flatulence rule the day? Whatever the cause, “follow the methane” may well become the new space exploration mantra!       

 

Trackbacks

  1. [...] the southern belt has been known to submerge and disappear from view about every decade or so, as last happened in 2009-2010. You’ll also notice the Great Red Spot, a massive storm system over three times larger than the [...]

  2. [...] the southern equatorial belt is prone to pulling a ‘disappearing act’ every decade of so, as last occurred in 2010. The Great Red Spot is another prominent feature gracing the Jovian cloud tops, though its appeared [...]

  3. [...] visible, striping the ochre disk of the bloated world. One major mystery is just why the Southern Equatorial Belt pulls a vanishing act every decade or so, as it last did in 2010, while the other Northern [...]

  4. [...] visible, striping the ochre disk of the bloated world. One major mystery is just why the Southern Equatorial Belt pulls a vanishing act every decade or so, as it last did in 2010, while the other Northern [...]

  5. [...] is so apparently stable and long-lived; other storm systems come and go, and the planet’s Southern Equatorial Belt is known to pull a disappearing act roughly every decade or [...]

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