PlanetarySeminar: Giant Planets in the Thermal Infrared

Dr. Leigh Fletcher gave a lecture at the Thermal Infrared Astronomy Workshop sponsored by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in October 2020, highlighting the planetary atmospheres research at the University of Leicester.

Mid-infrared imaging and spectroscopy provides a powerful diagnostic of the atmospheric conditions on the giant planets of our Solar System, from their churning tropospheric cloud decks to their seasonally-changing stratospheres.

Mid-infrared studies have revealed long- term cycles of atmospheric variability; eruptions of powerful convective storms; changes within long-lived vortices; and can even diagnose the aftermath of comet/asteroid strikes. Observations in the N and Q bands provide our only unique measurements of atmospheric temperature, composition, and cloud opacity, and yet all current (Juno) and future (JUICE) robotic missions to Jupiter lack this crucial capability.

Ground-based observations (from ESO, Subaru, Gemini, and NASA’s IRTF) therefore play a vital supporting role in observing these four worlds, and can even provide new discoveries at distant Uranus and Neptune, despite atmospheric temperatures approaching 50 K, and angular sizes of 2-4”. Continued imaging and spectroscopy capabilities in the N and Q bands, over a 1-arcmin field of view, is vital for the continued exploration of these giant planets.

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