Monday, 25 June, 2018

Juno Spacecraft Gives New Insight Into The Surface Of Jupiter

An illustration depicting the U.S. space agency's Juno spacecraft in orbit above Jupiter's Great Red Spot. NASA  JPL-Caltech  Handout via REUTERS NASA handout of an illustration depicting the U.S. space agency's Juno spacecraft in orbit above Jupiter's Gread Red Spot. Thomson Reuters
Doris Mccormick | 08 March, 2018, 06:55

Other Juno science results released today include that the massive cyclones that surround Jupiter's north and south poles are enduring atmospheric features and unlike anything else encountered in our solar system.

The fourth and final paper, led by Alberto Adriani from INAF-Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali in Italy, reports that the continent-sized cyclones at Jupiter's poles - discovered by Juno past year - are not a chaotic jumble, but instead form polygonal patterns. The Jovian weather layer, from its very top to a depth of 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers), contains about one percent of Jupiter's mass (about 3 Earth masses).

The great red spot is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclonic storm which has been observed from earth for over 200 years.

That's the latest result from Juno, a NASA spacecraft in orbit around the gas giant since 2016. We already knew that Jupiter's gravitational field wasn't perfectly symmetrical, since much of the planet's mass is unevenly distributed in those jet streams blowing through its atmosphere.

Because Juno is in polar orbit, it can examine both poles separately, which is what the team did - and they found that part of Jupiter's gravitational field does not have north-south symmetry. Now we know that those jet streams are very deep, we also know that the gravity variation is much greater than we previously expected.

The finding is important for understanding the nature and possible mechanisms driving these strong jet streams. "In addition, the gravity signature of the jets is entangled with the gravity signal of the interior (e.g., Jupiter's core)".

What lies at the center of Jupiter is also a mystery and these new findings suggest that, below the extremely dense weather layer, the gas planet rotates as a near-rigid body.

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.

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"This is really an awesome result, and future measurements by Juno will help us understand how the transition works between the weather layer and the rigid body below", Tristan Guillot, a French scientist and the paper's co-author, said in a statement. "Our results imply that the outer differentially-rotating region should be at least three times deeper in Saturn and shallower in massive giant planets and brown dwarf stars". "We tried to fit the Cassini data in the same way as Juno's data, but simply it did not work".

Team leader Alberto Adriani of Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome was surprised to find such complex structures.

They determined that the magnitude of the winds of Jupiter decayed with altitude, finally petering out at a depth of around 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles) below cloud level.

"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".

Since the famous stripes of the planet Jupiter were seen by Galileo in the early 17th century, scientists have wondered whether they are just colorful bands or a significant layer of the planet.

These cyclones far exceed a category five cyclone in strength, reaching up to 350km/h. "What was unexpected is their stable appearance, close clustering and symmetry around each of the poles". Its north pole is dominated by a central cyclone surrounded by eight circumpolar cyclones with diameters ranging from 2,500 to 2,900 miles (4,000 to 4,600 kilometers) across. But for reasons scientist can not yet explain, the tightly-clustered cyclones remain distinct, according to NASA.

How these structures formed and how they continue to survive without merging are still open questions.

Jupiter's gaseous neighbor, Saturn, has only single cyclonic systems at each poles. "We are beginning to realize that not all gas giants are created equal".

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