Space Research

Jupiter’s beautiful bands extend thousands of miles into the gas giant’s atmosphere

It turns out that Jupiter’s beautiful white and orange bands are not just for show on its outermost atmospheric layer, but these bands extend thousands of miles into the gas giant’s atmosphere, a new study has found.

Published in the journal Nature, the study that reveals this is part of a four-article collection involving data from NASA’s Juno mission collected ever since the spacecraft reached Jupiter. Southwest Research Institute’s Dr. Scott Bolton who is the principal investigator of the mission and a coauthor of the latest Nature papers said that Juno’s data has unraveled a completely new Jupiter that we haven’t known.

The data collected by Juno and the subsequent analysis, study and its findings have provided great deal of insights into Jupiter revealing that what seemed like a weather pattern on the gas giant’s outer layers actually extends down well below the depth where sunlight penetrates. The findings suggest there is something other than weather at play that may be driving these forces.

“In total, Jupiter’s jet streams contain about 1 percent of the gas giant’s mass. That means a mass equivalent to about three Earths is moving around Jupiter in the form of jet streams,” Bolton said. “That is a lot of atmosphere to be moving with jet streams. On Earth, our atmosphere is less than a millionth of Earth’s mass!”

Of the four papers, one of them looks at how the symmetric layers of Jupiter work and reports that below the jet stream layer, Jupiter rotates as a rigid body. Understanding the transition between the atmospheric layer and the more rigid layers that lie beneath will be revealed during the remainder of Juno’s primary mission over the next couple of years.

The fourth paper provided the first detailed look at how the familiar bands give way to giant cyclones organized in geometric patterns at both of Jupiter’s poles.

Visible and infrared images obtained from above each pole during Juno’s first five orbits reveal persistent polygonal patterns of large cyclones. In the north, eight circumpolar cyclones surround a single polar cyclone. In the south, one polar cyclone is encircled by five circumpolar cyclones.

Launched in 2011, Juno arrived at Jupiter in 2016. Every 53 days, the spacecraft swings in close to the planet, studying its auroras and probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, weather layer and magnetosphere.

About the author

Maheen McMahon

Maheen McMahon

With multiple research papers under her belt, Maheen loves writing about science. Just fresh out of college, Mahen has great understanding about astronomy and cover space research news. You can get in touch with her here.

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