NASA mission discovers Jupiter's inner secrets

Katrina Barker
March 9, 2018

The recent findings will perk up understanding of the planet's core mass, interior structure and eventually, its origin.

In a first, they found that these cyclones were in polygonal patterns, with eight surrounding one central cyclone at the north pole, and five around one in the south pole (as you can see in the lead image). "'Juno is only about one third the way through its primary mission, and already we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter".

The scientists said Jupiter's jet streams, related to the familiar stripes on its surface, plunge some 1,800 miles (3,000 km) below cloud level, and that its deep interior is comprised of a fluid hydrogen and helium mixture that rotates as if it were a solid body.

The lead author of a Nature paper on Jupiter's deep weather layer Yohai Kaspi talked about Jupiter's extended jets.

Because a gas giant's atmospheric pressure and magnetic field both depend on its mass, less-massive worlds such as Saturn should have dynamic weather extending more than three times deeper than Jupiter's. The Jovian weather layer contains approximately one percent of Jupiter's mass.

"By contrast, Earth's atmosphere is less than one millionth of the total mass of Earth", said Kaspi.

Kaspi added that the results were surprising because they indicate that the atmosphere of Jupiter is more massive and extends much deeper than theorized. These atmospheric winds last longer than similar atmospheric processes found on Earth.

Last month, Nasa revealed that the great red spot over Jupiter, its defining feature, will most likely be gone in about a decade.

Juno orbits Jupiter every 53 days, and is giving researchers a chance to "see" what lies below the planet's surface.

The structure of the cyclonic pattern observed over Jupiter’s south pole
The structure of the cyclonic pattern observed over Jupiter’s south pole

Morgan O'Neill, co-author of the cyclone paper and a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, said: "They are extraordinarily stable arrangements of such chaotic elements".

"Each one of the northern cyclones is nearly as wide as the distance between Naples, Italy and New York City - and the southern ones are even larger than that. There is nothing else like it that we know of in the solar system".

Saturn, Jupiter's gaseous neighbor, has only single cyclonic systems at each pole.

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.

While these storms might look like the same cyclone with branched arms, they are actually separate storms that are densely packed.

Getting that information, Guillot said, allowed them to get a handle on the depth of the flow. On Feb. 7, Juno completed its 10th science orbit of Jupiter. The next is scheduled for April 1.

Launched in 2011, Juno has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016 and peering beneath the thick ammonia clouds. Provided their spacecraft stays healthy and funded, the Juno team is contemplating additional measurements that could further probe Jupiter's interior, such as monitoring tidal bulges raised by large moons whipping around the planet.

"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.

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