NASA mission discovers Jupiter's inner secrets

Violet Powell
March 9, 2018

"Rotation makes it oblate (squashed at the poles and fatter at the equator), but how much so depends on the internal density distribution". And since the flybys are in different orbits each time, they can sample the gravitational field of different parts of the planet. But where winds are blowing west, it's akin to slowing the spin of that part of Jupiter, changing the shape of the planet in different places.

"How large these north-south asymmetries are depends on the depth of the flows", Iess said.

"They have very violent winds, reaching, in some cases, speeds as great as 220 miles per hour (350 kph)".

"The answer is neither", says David Stevenson, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology who leads the Juno team studying the planet's interior.

If the winds on the surface were shallow - 200 miles, for example - the asymmetry is small. When the results from Juno arrived, the measurement revealed large differences in the gravity field between north and south. The models used by the researchers indicate the winds are about 2,000 miles deep. Until now, scientists have had scant information about what lies below Jupiter's thick red, brown, yellow and white clouds.

The atmospheric winds of Jupiter run deep into its atmosphere and last longer than similar atmospheric processes found here on Earth, data collected by NASA's Juno mission to the gas-giant planet shows.

"With further studies, they can understand the forces at play in the swirling storms", O'Neill said. The findings were confirmed with all the researchers getting the same measurements. Now, thanks to unprecedented findings from NASA's Juno spacecraft, we have a better idea about what happens at the core of this turbulent titan. "In addition, the gravity signature of the jets is entangled with the gravity signal of the interior (e.g., Jupiter's core)".

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The huge cyclones at the poles are believed to be lasting atmospheric features, and are "unlike anything encountered in our solar system", the scientists say. Each with their own individual morphologies, say the researchers.

"By contrast, Earth's atmosphere is less than one millionth of the total mass of Earth", said Kaspi. At that boundary, atmospheric pressures 100,000 times higher than those at Earth's surface strip protons and electrons from the planet's hydrogen.

"On a gas planet, such an asymmetry can only come from flows deep within the planet; and on Jupiter, the visible eastward and westward jet streams are likewise asymmetric north and south". Juno is the first spacecraft to fly over the polar regions.

The scientists reported today there's a constellation of nine cyclones over Jupiter's north pole and six over the south pole. But the numbers stayed oddly constant; the storms weren't drifting and merging, as our current understanding of the science suggested they should.

The stunning Jupiter cyclone storms image captured by NASA Juno probe can be enjoyed at the beginning of this article.

To see beneath Jupiter's veil of clouds and study its winds, the Juno team precisely measured the planet's gravitational field. "Now, we have been able to observe the polar weather up-close every two months", said Alberto Adriani, Juno co-investigator from the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, Rome, and lead author of the paper.

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