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

Casey Dawson
March 9, 2018

Yohai Kaspi led this research, in which measurements from NASA's Juno spacecraft were analyzed to reveal that the stripes - belts of strong winds circling the planet - extend to a depth of about 3,000 km (about 1,900 miles).

Jupiter's surface has bright and dark bands of gas and winds that rapidly flow in opposing directions.

Juno data has indicated that the weather layer of Jupiter is more massive and extended much deeper into the planet than previously expected.

NASA's Juno probe has captured incredible images of the huge cyclones that surround Jupiter's north and south poles - and they're unlike anything in the solar system. The scientists say that the findings will improve our understanding of the interior structure of Jupiter, core mass, and its origins.

The measurements shed the first light on what goes on beneath the surface of the largest planet in the Solar System, which from a distance resembles a colourful, striped glass marble.

Juno is now scheduled to remain in orbit around Jupiter until July 2018, but NASA is looking at ways to extend the mission.

The study, authored by scientists from an global group of institutions including the University of Chicago, is published in March 8's Nature as part of a set of four papers dedicated to new observations from the Juno spacecraft.

When Juno co-investigator Alberto Adriani and colleagues got lovely images from Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument, they were stunned: Jupiter's poles were a stark contrast to the more familiar orange and white belts and zones encircling the gas giant at lower latitudes.

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

This Nasa image released March 2, 2018 captures the swirling cloud formations around the south pole of Jupiter, looking up toward the equatorial region. The data used in generating this image was collected by the JIRAM instrument aboard Juno during the fourth Juno pass over Jupiter on February 2, 2017.

Another of the studies in this week's journal Nature finds that Jupiter's crisscrossing east-west jet streams actually penetrate thousands of miles (kilometers) beneath the visible cloud tops. The deeper the jet streams on the planet, the more mass they contain and cause a stronger signal expressed in the gravity fields.

A truly striking result released in the Nature papers is the handsome new imagery of Jupiter's poles captured by Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument. That is quite a bit deeper than previous estimates, and is revising scientists' picture of Jupiter's atmosphere as well as its inner layers. "Now, we have been able to observe the polar weather up-close every two months", Dr. Adriani said. This is not only important and exciting, in order to better understand the gas planets in our own solar system.

Launched in 2011, Juno has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016 and peering beneath the thick ammonia clouds.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

"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". Jupiter's South Pole cyclone is a central storm with five circumpolar storms that are between 5,600 and 7,000 km across.

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