Discovery of water on Jupiter provides insight into solar system’s formation

Jupiter
Erin Goldwater/Courtesy

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UC Berkeley researchers announced last week that they have discovered water clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere — a finding that offers insight into the formation of the solar system.

Mechanical engineering professor Philip Marcus said traces of water were found in Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, thanks to an abundance of data, new software and the use of two different telescopes.

“This is the first step in learning about Jupiter and the solar system’s formation,” said astronomy professor Imke de Pater, who is a co-author of the study.

According to de Pater, scientists have discovered three cloud layers in Jupiter and detected water abundance in Jupiter’s atmosphere. De Pater added that layers in the planet were previously indistinguishable and a past attempt to determine the planet’s water abundance an attempt that involved a Galileo satellite probewas not as accurate.

The significance of the discovery is that it will allow scientists to find out how Jupiter and the rest of the solar system were formed, Marcus said. He added that previous attempts to determine how much water exists on Jupiter concluded that water does exist on Jupiter, but did not find enough water to confirm any theories about Jupiter’s formation.

“When the Galileo probe went into Jupiter, it only measured half a solar abundance of water and couldn’t really determine water abundance,” de Pater said. “We were able to get much better measurements on water abundance (through this new research).”

De Pater said scientists already knew about the abundance of elements in Jupiter, but these new findings provide information about Jupiter’s atmospheric conditions.

According to de Pater, the next step in learning how the solar system was formed is to gather data on other regions of Jupiter, using radio waves that are not susceptible to the gases in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

“I think this is a very notable and important discovery, as it reveals how our solar system forms and it has strong implications for the dynamics and climate of Jupiter,” Marcus said.

Yao Huang covers research and ideas. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Yhoneplus.”