Juno data shows Jupiter is a lot weirder than we once thought

8 Mar 2018

A composite image derived from data collected by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter showing the central cyclone at the planet’s north pole and the eight cyclones that encircle it. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

Four different research teams have revealed a wealth of information about Jupiter, and shows just how strange the gas giant is.

Despite it being the biggest planet in our solar system, much of what lies beneath the surface of Jupiter has remained a mystery.

But a wealth of new findings from the Juno spacecraft, sent back to Earth since May of last year, has seen not one but four different studies published on the gas giant, showing it to be a truly strange place.

Future Human

According to AFP (via Phys.org), one of the major findings was that the planet is covered in a constellation of nine massive cyclones over its north pole and a further six over its southern one.

In these places, wind speeds reach a blistering 350kph and have remained consistent in strength and size since they were first observed. But the strangeness is only just beginning.

On further inspection, the structure of the nine cyclones was very different from what was expected by the researchers from Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics. They were very complex.

Rather than showing a similarity to the six-sided cloud system visible over Saturn’s north pole, the team actually found an octagon-shaped group with eight cyclones surrounding a solitary cyclone in the middle, all of which measure thousands of kilometres across.

Then, down south, a pentagon-shaped formation was found, again with a central cyclone within.

Really deep atmosphere

Another major finding made by the research teams was the fact that Juno’s readings of the planet’s criss-crossing jet streams revealed a much deeper atmosphere than once thought.

These jet streams are estimated to be about 3,000km deep beneath the visible cloud tops and were observed thanks to Jupiter’s uneven gravity field.

Yohai Kaspi from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who was involved in the research, said that it will help other researchers create a clearer picture of what Jupiter’s core looks like.

Speaking of their work in the study on Jupiter’s cyclones, researchers Glenn Orton and Fachreddin Tabataba-Vakili said the findings are the first step towards some truly amazing discoveries.

“We cannot say how many mysteries are left to uncover. We are already finding way more fascinating results than we ever expected!” they said.

Abstracts of the Juno papers can be found online:

Measurement of Jupiter’s asymmetric gravity field

Jupiter’s atmospheric jet streams extend thousands of kilometres deep

A suppression of differential rotation in Jupiter’s deep interior

Clusters of cyclones encircling Jupiter’s poles

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic