Scientists spot cyclone pentagon on Jupiter, unlock secrets of interior

A mosaic of infrared images from Jupiter's South Pole shows the persistent hurricanes.                  NASA  SWRI  JPL  ASI  INAF  IAPS

"What was unexpected is their stable appearance, close clustering and symmetry around each of the poles". Juno is in such an orbit, completing one loop every 53 days. The polar regions of Jupiter haven't been studied previously because they are hard to see from Earth. "But there was no data set capable of answering this question until Juno".

Researchers poring over these datasets are finally uncovering some of the planet's mysteries.

Prof. Kaspi, together with Dr. Eli Galanti, both of the Institute's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, was preparing for this analysis even before Juno was launched almost seven years ago.

This handout picture provided by Nature and released by NASA/SWRI/JPL/ASI/INAF/IAFPS on March 8, 2018 shows Jupiter's South Pole in a mosaic of images acquired by the Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper at wavelengths. The south pole is similar, but has just six cyclones surrounding the main storm. On the south pole of the planet is another central cyclone surrounded by five other cyclones ranging from 3,500 miles to 4,300 miles.

Jupiter's winds are tightly connected to the planet's gravitational and magnetic fields.

The researchers said that in future orbits they plan on using similar gravitational studies to investigate the depth and structure of Jupiter's iconic spot.

The origins of these cyclones and how they persist without merging, or letting another storm muscle in, remain unknown, however. Thought to be as old as the planet itself, these bands are sculpted by high-speed winds whipping around the orb in opposite directions, and constitute the "face" Jupiter presents to the outside world.

Researchers trust the continuous mission's discoveries, which have been distributed in four papers in Nature, will enhance comprehension of Jupiter's inside structure, center mass and, in the long run, its birthplace. "This was certainly a surprise". The cyclones we see above stretch as deep as 1,900 miles into the planet. Back on Earth at least one group of astronomers is using ground-based telescopes to search for seismic waves rippling through the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, a phenomenon roughly analogous to earthquakes on our own world. At that boundary, atmospheric pressures 100,000 times higher than those at Earth's surface strip protons and electrons from the planet's hydrogen. The most famous feature of Jupiter is the Great Red Spot, but also noteworthy are the bands of light and dark clouds that make up what we can see of the planet from afar.

Guillot and his colleagues say the gravitational asymmetry is the result of complex atmospheric and interior wind flows. The deeper the jets, the more mass they contain, leading to a stronger signal expressed in the gravity field.

Kaspi added that the results were surprising because they indicate that the atmosphere of Jupiter is more massive and extends much deeper than theorized.

In order to take a look beneath the bands of clouds and get a better sense of what was happening closer to the surface, the team behind the Juno mission looked at the planet's gravitational field. Corresponding Author: Luciano Iess (Sapienza Università di Roma, Rome, Italy).

Commenting on all the latest work, Leigh Fletcher, from Leicester University, UK, said Juno was really now starting to deliver on its promise.

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