Sunday, 16 December, 2018

NASA reveals what lies beneath Jupiter's swirling surface

Juno is finding weird things in Jupiter's vast cyclone clusters NASA spies fierce cyclone dance on Jupiter
Andrew Cummings | 09 March, 2018, 02:32

Thought to be as old as the planet itself, these bands are sculpted by high-speed winds whipping around the orb in opposite directions, and constitute the "face" Jupiter presents to the outside world. A team led by Yohai Kaspi of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel used another asymmetry, that of Jupiter's magnetic field, to calculate the depth of Jupiter's atmosphere, finding that the mass of the atmosphere amounts for about 1% of the planet's total mass. "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".

The research group with the collaboration of Daniele Durante and Paolo Racioppa and other researchers from Italian and foreign universities and scientific institutions, managed to establish the depth of the winds, based on the measurements of the planet's gravity carried out by the probe.

The images Juno captured of these cyclones can help scientists understand the gas giant's interior structure, core, and origins. Data collected by Juno is also giving insight into the roots of the zones and belts of Jupiter.

As seen in the image, the storm over the North Pole looks like one large cyclone surrounded by eight smaller arms. The deeper the jets, the more mass they contain, leading to a stronger signal expressed in the gravity field. The magnitude of the asymmetry in gravity indicated how deep in the planet the jet streams extend.

Another Juno result suggests that 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. 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. 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. That might not sound like much, but it's actually a greater ratio than that of Earth.

Even with all this information, we're still just barely scratching the surface of what we know about Jupiter.

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"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". However, as tightly spaced as the cyclones are, they have remained distinct, with individual morphologies over the seven months of observations detailed in the paper.

"They are extraordinarily stable arrangements of such chaotic elements", says Morgan O'Neill, a University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar and a coauthor on paper "Clusters of cyclones encircling Jupiter's poles".

The $1 billion Juno mission, which NASA launched in 2011, is expected to continue to reveal more of Jupiter's secrets.

Principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute Scott Bolton said the new science results are yet another example of Jupiter's curve balls.

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.

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