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Outer Planets Colloquium Series


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Mike Wong

west photo
Research Scientist
Astronomy Department
University of California Berkeley

Research Summary:

Mike Wong is a Research Scientist in the Department of Astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley. His interest in cloud-forming gases in Jupiter's atmosphere began with analyzing data from the mass spectrometer on the Galileo Probe. Later, he participated with the investigator team for the Composite Infrared Spectrometer on Cassini in the discovery of the signature of ammonia ice in Jupiter's thermal spectrum. With Franck Marchis, he discovered the first moonlet binary among the Trojan asteroids, a large group of objects that share the orbit of Jupiter around the Sun.

Title 1: Red Spot Jr. and Jupiter's Global Upheaval

Abstract 1:

White Oval BA turned red, like the Great Red Spot, in late 2005. Collaborator Chris Go, an amateur astronomer in Cebu City, Philippines, was the first to note this color change.

But the story really begins in the 1920s, when Jupiter suffered a planet-wide disturbance called a "global upheaval." Three White Ovals formed after this upheaval, and coexisted happily at the latitude of 33° south, until they began merging together in 1998. By 2001, only a single oval remained: Oval BA. When this feature turned red, astronomers nicknamed it "Red Spot Jr." or the "Little Red Spot." While the how and why of the color change are hotly debated in the planetary community, our group and others are continuing to acquire an exciting array of Hubble and ground-based imaging and spectroscopic data to provide answers to these questions.

Collaborator Phil Marcus made an interesting prediction in 2001 after studying the merger of the three white ovals. He believed that the merger would lead to a shutdown of heat transfer from the equator to the pole across the latitude of 33° south. The buildup of equatorial heat would lead to new phenomena in Jupiter's atmosphere. Indeed, about 7 years after the merger (one radiative timescale), Oval BA turned red. The following year, in 2006, Jupiter began a new global upheaval, producing effects that are already helping us better understand the Jovian atmosphere.

Title 2: Outer Planet Volatile Abundances

Abstract 2:

This talk is structured around the exploration of several intimately related questions concerning water and other volatiles in giant planets:

  • What is the cloud structure in the giant planets?
  • What did the Galileo Probe Mass Spectrometer find out about water on Jupiter?
  • Have remote sensing efforts measured water in the giant planets? Will remote sensing succeed in the future?
  • Can the abundances of other volatiles indirectly tell us about water?
  • How do volatile abundances compare among the giant planets?
  • What do the densities of giant planet moons tell us about their origins?
  • Can we use giant planet volatile abundance ratios to constrain how the planets formed, and also characterize the icy planetesimals that contributed to their formation?
  • What conditions would permit oceans to exist in ice giant planets?

A third topic, "Nitrogen on Jupiter - Clouds and Cosmochemistry," is described here:

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