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

Jupiter's poles are a stark contrast to the more familiar orange and white belts and zones encircling the planet at lower latitudes

Juno is a NASA spacecraft that has been orbiting around the gas giant, Jupiter, since 2016. Before you get to this layer of Jupiter, however, there is a whopping 3,000 kilometers of atmosphere - those swirling bands of clouds that can be seen from the surface. "Until now, we only had a superficial understanding of them and have been able to relate these stripes to cloud features along Jupiter's jets".

Using high-precision gravitational measurements, Juno has produced findings that show the inner 96% of the planet rotates "as a solid body", even if this is made of an extremely dense mixture of hydrogen and helium.

Scientists hope the ongoing mission's findings, which have been published in four papers in Nature, will improve understanding of Jupiter's interior structure, core mass and, eventually, its origin.

Instead, they found an octagon-shaped grouping over the north pole, with eight cyclones surrounding one in the middle, and a pentagon-shaped batch over the south pole. Data collected by Juno is also giving insight into the roots of the zones and belts of Jupiter. The deeper the jets, the more mass they contain, leading to a stronger signal expressed in the gravity field. 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 lead author of a Nature paper on Jupiter's deep weather layer Yohai Kaspi talked about Jupiter's extended jets.

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. But in the past two years, with NASA's Juno spacecraft, researchers have gotten a good look at the top and bottom of the planet for the first time.

Another study in this week's journal Nature finds that Jupiter's jet streams actually penetrate far beneath the visible cloud tops. Kaspi, are much stronger than the fiercest winds on Earth, and they have lasted for at least hundreds of years. "We know with Cassini data that Saturn has a single cyclonic vortex at each pole". The geometric arrays of storms is baffling as each of these storms is arrayed around one cyclone over the north and south poles-unlike any storm formation seen in the universe. "The remarkable thing about this", says Dr. Galanti, "is that we were able to directly measure the signature of the flows themselves".

"The manner in which the cyclones persist without merging and the process by which they evolve to their current configuration are unknown", the researchers wrote. This is not only important and exciting, in order to better understand the gas planets in our own solar system. The northern cyclones each range from between 4,000 and 4,600 km across in size. Those eight circumpolar cycles that surround the larger central cyclone on the planet's north pole are 2,500 to 2,900 miles in diameter. All cyclones lasted for seven months.

Nearly all the polar cyclones, at both poles, are so densely packed that their spiral arms come in contact with adjacent cyclones. On Feb. 7, Juno completed its 10th science orbit of Jupiter.

Principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute Scott Bolton said the new science results are yet another example of Jupiter's curve balls.

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