What did Juno Uncover on Jupiter?

Pablo Tucker
March 11, 2018

Of all the images released by Juno to date, the computer-reconstructed infrared views of Jupiter's atmosphere, like the one pictured above, are particularly awe-inspiring. For a while now it's been unknown what goes on below Jupiter's clouds besides its rotational patterns, but now it has been revealed that there is even a pentagon at its south pole and this structure persists 3000km deep.

And there's more. Another study using data from Juno's gravity measurements reveals that Jupiter's counterrotating stripes are a two-dimensional representation of a vast three-dimensional jet stream structure deep inside the planet, and these jets are deeply embedded within the planet's powerful gravitational field.

Refined measurements of Jupiter's uneven gravity field enabled the Weizmann Institute of Science's Yohai Kaspi in Rehovot, Israel, and his colleagues to calculate the depth of the jet streams at about 3,000 km. Now, thanks to data collected by the Juno mission, scientists have been able to take a "peek" beneath the planet's surface to see just how far these belts of strong winds extend; and its far, very far. A similar situation may be occurring at other big gas planets like Saturn, where the atmosphere could be even deeper than Jupiter's, he said. This technology has been used to publish Jupiter's North Pole central cyclone images with eight other encircling it.

A truly striking result released in the Nature papers is the lovely new imagery of Jupiter's poles captured by Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument. "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". They have very violent winds, reaching, in some cases, speeds as great as 220 miles per hour (350 kmph).

The co-investigator also added that the remarkable feature about the cyclones is that they are enduring and very close together.

Another of the studies in this week's Nature finds that Jupiter's crisscrossing east-west jet streams actually penetrate thousands of kilometres beneath the visible cloud tops. "There is nothing else like it that we know of in the solar system".

We know that by now Juno has made around 10 passes over Jupiter, the 11 one going to happen on the 11of April. "Now, we have been able to observe the polar weather up-close every two months", said Alberto Adriani, Juno's co-investigator from the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, Rome, in the same statement. In addition, the gravity signature of the jets is entangled with the gravity signal of Jupiter's core. Also, the Juno findings suggest that beneath the weather layer of the gas giant, the planet rotates almost as a rigid body. But, they remain distinct in spite of being so tightly spaced.

This is really an fantastic result, and future measurements by Juno will help us understand how the transition works between the weather layer and the rigid body below.

"This is really an unbelievable result, and future measurements by Juno will help us understand how the transition works between the weather layer and the rigid body below", said Tristan Guillot, a Juno co-investigator from the Université Côte d'Azur, Nice, France.

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