NASA mission discovers Jupiter's inner secrets

Clusters of cyclones churn over Jupiter

Jupiter is covered in violent, powerful winds that last hundreds of years

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.

Using data gathered from Juno's sophisticated suite of instruments, researchers have found that Jupiter's storms aren't confined to the uppermost layers of the Jovian atmosphere. Jupiter's atmosphere takes up 1 per cent of its total mass - it might sound like a small proportion, but its huge compared to the Earth's atmosphere which is only a millionth of its total mass.

In addition to the cyclones, NASA also revealed that Juno's advanced instruments have been able for the first time to peer deep into Jupiter's interior.

Juno co-investigator from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, Yohai Kaspi, explained the mission's breakthrough to understanding the asymmetry of the planet.

This computer-generated image is based on an infrared image of Jupiter's north polar region that was acquired on February 2, 2017, by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard Juno during the spacecraft's fourth pass over Jupiter. These poles are one of a kind in the solar system, being very close to one another, having very fast winds up to 350 kph, and being very large in size.

More data needs to be analysed in order to fully understand what is going on beneath Jupiter's atmosphere and Kaspi and fellow co-workers are hoping that by studying some of Jupiter's other iconic features, such as the Great Red Spot, with the same methods they developed to characterise the jet-streams, they can understand how deep this giant storm extends as well.

These discoveries and others are detailed in a series of papers published this month in the journal Nature.

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The findings are important for understanding the nature and possible mechanisms driving the strong jet streams. "Juno is only about one third the way through its primary mission, and already we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter".

The gravity signature of the jet streams is bound with the gravity signal of Jupiter core.

The image captures the swirling cloud formations around the south pole of Jupiter, looking up toward the equatorial region. A feature such as it is something that is like nothing else that has been observed so far in the solar system.

The other surprise? Juno detected that underneath its colorful, violent shroud, the planet rotates almost as a rigid body. These new discoveries relate to its gravitational field, its chaotic atmosphere, the composition of its interior and its polar cyclones, and allow scientists to form a more complete picture of the larger planet of our solar system.

"The very centre may contain a core made of high pressure and high-temperature rocks and perhaps water, but it is believed to be fluid as well, not solid", said planetary scientist Tristan Guillot of the Université Côte d'Azur in Nice, another of the research leaders.

The south pole of Jupiter also has a central cyclone with five cyclones surrounding it, each of these measures around 5,600 to 7,000 kilometers in diameter. However, as tightly spaced as the cyclones are, they have remained distinct, with individual morphologies over the seven months of observations detailed in the paper.

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