Jupiter has the craziest storms seen yet, say boffins


The massive cyclones that surround its north and south poles are enduring atmospheric features based on other Juno science results recently released.

The winds at Jupiter's surface, some of the most powerful in the solar system, influence the planet's gravitational field, the latest observations show. The probe will continue in its current orbit through this summer, at which time NASA will likely seek to extend its mission.

Using a large antenna from NASA's Deep Space Network of radio telescopes tuned in to a special transponder on Juno provided by the Italian Space Agency, the team repeatedly searched for any unexplained anomalies in the spacecraft's trajectory. These new findings are being published in a series in the journal Nature. At the south pole, five massive storms are arranged in a pentagon-like shape around a storm.

In certain places, the wind speeds are believed to exceed Category 5 hurricane, reaching 220 miles per hour - making these storms far more powerful than the most intense storms on Earth. All cyclones lasted for seven months.

These storms though chaotic and violent are extraordinarily stable and astronomers haven't seen anything like it before. "We'd never seen anything like it".

For decades, scientists have been asking questions about Jupiter's famous stripes.

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Jupiter's surface has bright and dark bands of gas and winds that rapidly flow in opposing directions. "That is basically a mass equal to three Earths moving at speeds of tens of meters per second".

The giant planet has other fierce storms as well, and recent studies have revealed quite a few things about them. These clouds and winds are thought to be as old as the planet itself, but until now we haven't been able to tell what exactly lies beneath these bands that have obscured our vision of the surface for so long.

Kaspi's calculations and results from Juno revealed asymmetry in the gravitational fields between north to south. One suggested that the winds extend far down towards the surface, going as deep as 10000 kilometers that were driven by heat from the depths of the planet.

The winds of the planet are determined by the same laws that regulate the atmospheric circulation on the Earth where the high and low pressure zones, associated with different densities of the atmosphere, force the movement of large air masses: the deeper the winds, the greater the atmospheric masses put into motion and the greater the variation of gravity generated. Now, following the Juno gravity measurements, we know how deep the jets extend and what their structure is beneath the visible clouds.

The team also aims to use Juno to further study the Great Red Spot, the jet streams, and to measure the planet's moment of inertia to find out more about the variations in density. This gravitational asymmetry is caused by hydrogen-rich gas is flowing asymmetrically deep in the planet, and Juno was able to study this process.

NASA hopes the Juno mission helps provide a better understanding of Jupiter's origin, core mass and interior structure. Juno is in such an orbit, completing one loop every 53 days.