Juno Spacecraft Gives New Insight Into The Surface Of Jupiter

Jupiter's turmoil more than skin deep researchers

NASA launched the Juno mission on August 5, 2011 to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter, look for solid planetary core, map magnetic field, measure water and ammonia in deep atmosphere, and observe auroras. This breakthrough glimpse of the giant gas planet's interior shows there is more to Jupiter beyond its spectacular bands of clouds.

The massive cyclones that surround its north and south poles are enduring atmospheric features based on other Juno science results recently released. "Now that we know the gravity signature of the atmosphere it will help us in better understanding the interior structure, core mass and eventually the origin of Jupiter".

Juno spends much of is time far out of reach from the worst of the planet's intense radiation belts, but swoops in once every orbit to focus on the planet beneath the stormy clouds on the surface. Yohai Kaspi, lead author of a Nature paper on Jupiter's deep weather layer, said Galileo viewed the stripes on Jupiter over 400 years ago.

"But the Juno data has now provided evidence that there are north-south asymmetries in the gravity field of the gas giant". Since then it's been orbiting the planet, taking pictures and measuring the planet's profile in infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, gravity and magnetism-and answering questions scientists have had about Jupiter for decades.

By contrast, Earths atmosphere is less than one millionth of the total mass of Earth. They also found that the speed of the above-mentioned winds extend some 3,000 km beneath the cloud level, dropping in intensity with altitude.

What lies at the center of Jupiter is also a mystery and these new findings suggest that, below the extremely dense weather layer, the gas planet rotates as a near-rigid body. "Juno's unique orbit and evolutionary high-precision radio science and infrared technologies enabled these paradigm-shifting discoveries", said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. 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.

A truly striking result released in the Nature papers is the attractive new imagery of Jupiter's poles captured by Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument.

Even more surprising, the astronomers agreed that the biggest planet in our Solar System, Jupiter, spits jet stream up to 3,000 kilometers from its "surface" which is made of a mixture of helium an hydrogen that, under the planet's gravitational force, rotate in a similar way as the rocky surfaces of Earth or Mars. This jet stream contains an estimate of 1 percent of the planet's entire mass.

Nearly all the polar cyclones, at both poles, are so densely packed that their spiral arms come in contact with adjacent cyclones.

"We hope by the end of the Juno mission to be able to address all these topics", Kaspi said. All cyclones lasted for seven months.

The $1 billion Juno mission, which NASA launched in 2011, is expected to continue to reveal more of Jupiter's secrets. "Flows are associated to density variations, pretty much as winds on Earth are caused by high and low pressure areas". The northern cyclones each range from between 4,000 and 4,600 km across in size.

They are about as wide as the distance between Naples and NY, noted lead author of the research Alberto Adriani, Juno co-investigator from the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, Rome.

Its north pole is dominated by a central cyclone surrounded by eight circumpolar cyclones with diameters ranging from 4,000 to 4,600 kilometres across.

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