NASA's Juno Probe Peers Into Jupiter's Mysterious Atmosphere and Polar Regions

10 March, 2018, 01:10 | Author: Chad Mckenzie
  • An illustration depicting the U.S. space agency's Juno spacecraft in orbit above Jupiter's Great Red Spot. NASA  JPL-Caltech  Handout via REUTERS

An worldwide team of researchers analysed data from the Juno spacecraft and found a constellation of nine extremely powerful cyclones over Jupiter's north pole and six over the south pole. "That is much more than anyone thought and more than what has been known from other planets in the solar system", noted Kaspi.

For the past year and a half, reports The Atlantic via Nature, the NASA spacecraft Juno has been circling Jupiter and collecting reams of data. The pair and their collaborators have reportedly submitted a paper detailing the findings to the journal Science. At the south pole, it was the same arrangement, only with five storms. As you can see in the image above, Jupiter's north pole is pretty surprising even in the context of other gas giants.

They also didn't expect the cyclones to be so close together and so symmetrical. "The remarkable thing about this", says Dr. Galanti, "is that we were able to directly measure the signature of the flows themselves". In the latest set of discoveries, Juno reveals the wild octagonal storm at Jupiter's north pole and the depth of the planet's iconic stripes.

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Until now, scientists have had scant information about what lies below Jupiter's thick red, brown, yellow and white clouds, and a surface famed for its distinctive dark and light bands and "great red spot". Kaspi. "That is basically a mass equal to three Earths moving at speeds of tens of meters per second".

Two other papers looked at different physical parameters of Jupiter.

However, in 2013, while the craft was still en route to Jupiter, Kaspi calculated that since asymmetry exists between the winds in the north and the south, this should produce a measurable gravitational signal. In a trio of papers published Wednesday in Nature, Stevenson and co-authors analyze new Juno measurements of Jupiter's gravitational field to reveal a more nuanced situation: The winds extend downward about 3,000 kilometers (about one twentieth of the planet's radius), and go no deeper. The deeper the jets, the more mass they contain, leading to a stronger signal expressed in the gravity field. Using some of the same methods they developed to characterize the jet streams, they are trying to understand how deep this giant storm extends. As NASA explains, the jet streams that create the eye-catching patterns originate far below what we are able to see from its cloud tops, and the cyclones are unlike anything observed before in the Solar System, including here on Earth.

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The probe captured data showing that the atmospheric winds of the gas-giant planet run deep into its atmosphere and last longer than similar atmospheric processes found here on Earth. The recent findings will perk up understanding of the planet's core mass, interior structure and eventually, its origin.

On July 4, 2016, the Juno spacecraft finally reached the planet's orbit.

Fortunately, Juno will remain in orbit for at least a couple of years, so we'll certainly have more to learn about Jupiter.

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"We're at the beginning of dissecting Jupiter", says Juno mission leader Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

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