Jupiter has the craziest storms seen yet, say boffins

Marie Harrington
March 9, 2018

New research based on data from Nasa's Juno mission has made a few startling discoveries about the gas giant, including the fact that its storms extend for thousands of kilometers into the atmosphere.

Up to a depth of about 3,000km, Juno's data showed, Jupiter comprises a psychedelic swirl of cloud bands and jet streams blown by powerful winds, in opposite directions and at different speeds. As part of the Juno Gravity experiment, researchers have used the changing speed of the probe to measure the attraction of Jupiter and thus its gravitational field.

David Stevenson, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology who led the team that was studying the results from Juno's orbit around Jupiter, stated in recently published papers that the winds extend downwards about 3000 kilometers - coming in between the two situations that were previously theorized.

'Until now, we only had a superficial understanding of them and have been able to relate these stripes to cloud features along Jupiter's jets. Since then it's been orbiting the giant planet, taking pictures and measuring Jupiter's profile in infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, gravity and magnetism - and answering questions scientists have had about the planet for decades. Data collected by Juno is also giving insight into the roots of the zones and belts of Jupiter. This jet stream contains an estimate of 1 percent of the planet's entire mass.

Another Juno result released today suggests that beneath the weather layer, the planet rotates almost as a rigid body. The biggest planet in the solar system has no tilt as it moves, so its poles have never been visible from Earth.

Juno is now scheduled to remain in orbit around Jupiter until July 2018, but NASA is looking at ways to extend the mission. Kaspi, are much stronger than the fiercest winds on Earth, and they have lasted for at least hundreds of years.

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Even with all this information, we're still just barely scratching the surface of what we know about Jupiter. They also suggest the electrical conductivity of a gas-giant planet's atmosphere is the crucial property that sets the limits for such a world's dynamic winds, as ionized gases at high pressures drag against its magnetic field. "Now, we have been able to observe the polar weather up-close every two months", Dr. Adriani said. The northern cyclones each range from between 4,000 and 4,600 km across in size.

The huge cyclones at the poles are believed to be lasting atmospheric features, and are "unlike anything encountered in our solar system", the scientists say. "There is nothing else like it that we know of in the solar system", he added.

When the Juno mission was successfully launched in 2011, astronomers worldwide were thrilled.

Its north pole is dominated by a central cyclone surrounded by eight circumpolar cyclones with diameters ranging from 4,000 to 4,600 kilometres across.

"These astonishing science results are yet another example of Jupiter's curve balls, and a testimony to the value of exploring the unknown from a new perspective with next-generation instruments", Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno, notes.

Nearly all the polar cyclones, at both poles, are so densely packed that their spiral arms come in contact with adjacent cyclones.

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