Unusual geometric arrays of storms observed at Jupiter's poles

Juno is finding weird things in Jupiter's vast cyclone clusters

"It's thanks to the exquisite accuracy of Juno's gravity field measurements and the great work of my colleagues Luciano Iess and William Folkner from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who analyzed the radio signal from the probe to extract the gravity field information that we were able to extract that asymmetry", said Guillot.

Three papers appearing in Nature on March 8 answer a question that scientists have been asking ever since Galileo first observed the famous stripes of Jupiter: Are the colorful bands just a pretty surface phenomenon, or are they a significant stratum of the planet?

In a first, they found that these cyclones were in polygonal patterns, with eight surrounding one central cyclone at the north pole, and five around one in the south pole (as you can see in the lead image). The recent findings will perk up understanding of the planet's core mass, interior structure and eventually, its origin.

The inner workings of Jupiter are amongst the most tantalising mysteries of our solar system. Provided their spacecraft stays healthy and funded, the Juno team is contemplating additional measurements that could further probe Jupiter's interior, such as monitoring tidal bulges raised by large moons whipping around the planet.

"But the Juno data has now provided evidence that there are north-south asymmetries in the gravity field of the gas giant".

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The research group with the collaboration of Daniele Durante and Paolo Racioppa and other researchers from Italian and foreign universities and scientific institutions, managed to establish the depth of the winds, based on the measurements of the planet's gravity carried out by the probe.

An illustration depicting the USA space agency's Juno spacecraft in orbit above Jupiter's Great Red Spot. They also suggest the electrical conductivity of a gas-giant planet's atmosphere is the crucial property that sets the limits for such a world's dynamic winds, as ionized gases at high pressures drag against its magnetic field. "Juno's unique orbit and evolutionary high-precision radio science and infrared technologies enabled these paradigm-shifting discoveries", said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio.

The discoveries include clusters of cyclones - nine at the North Pole and six at the South Pole. This jet stream contains an estimate of 1 percent of the planet's entire mass. These new findings are being published in a series in the journal Nature.

Even more surprising, the astronomers agreed that the biggest planet in our Solar System, Jupiter, spits jet stream up to 3,000 kilometers from its "surface" which is made of a mixture of helium an hydrogen that, under the planet's gravitational force, rotate in a similar way as the rocky surfaces of Earth or Mars.

While these storms might look like the same cyclone with branched arms, they are actually separate storms that are densely packed. "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. The northern cyclones each range from between 4,000 and 4,600 km across in size. Kaspi, are much stronger than the fiercest winds on Earth, and they have lasted for at least hundreds of years. "There is nothing else like it that we know of in the Solar System". At the north pole, eight storms surrounded one storm at the center.


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