Jupiter has the craziest storms seen yet, say boffins

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As you can see in the image above, Jupiter's north pole is pretty surprising even in the context of other gas giants.

Data collected by NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter indicate that the atmospheric winds of the gas-giant planet run deep into its atmosphere and last longer than similar atmospheric processes found here on Earth. Jupiter's tempestuous, gassy atmosphere stretches some 3,000 kilometres deep and comprises a hundredth of the planet's mass, studies based on observations by Nasa's Juno spacecraft revealed yesterday.

'Until now, we only had a superficial understanding of them and have been able to relate these stripes to cloud features along Jupiter's jets.

To see beneath Jupiter's veil of clouds and study its winds, the Juno team precisely measured the planet's gravitational field.

Nasa's Juno Jupiter probe has completed ten of its science missions so far and the space agency has put out a few of its latest findings and images shot close to the planet's poles.

"We didn't know whether a gaseous planet like Jupiter rotates with zones and belts all the way to the centre, or whether on the contrary the atmospheric patterns are skin-deep". What they found astounded them: freaky geometric arrangements of storms, each arrayed around one cyclone over the north and south poles-unlike any storm formation seen in the universe. Among the measurements Juno beamed back to Earth are those of the planet's gravity field, sent via radio waves: As the planet's gravity pulls on the spacecraft in its flyby, the radio signal is also shifted a bit; this shift in the wavelengths, though minuscule, is measurable. The magnitude of the asymmetry in gravity indicated how deep in the planet the jet streams extend.

Below this depth, the data shows, Jupiter's interior rotates as one solid body, a churning mass of liquid hydrogen and helium.

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Data gathered also indicates that beneath the weather layer Jupiter rotates almost as a rigid body. The large central cyclone is surrounded by eight other cyclones and are said to be like nothing else discovered in our solar system.

The $1 billion Juno mission, which NASA launched in 2011, is expected to continue to reveal more of Jupiter's secrets. Jupiter's South Pole cyclone is a central storm with five circumpolar storms that are between 5,600 and 7,000 km across. "We used this radio link between Juno and Earth to measure the velocity of the spacecraft to exquisite accuracy-to 0.01 millimeter per second or better", Iess says.

A mosaic of infrared images from Jupiter's South Pole shows the persistent hurricanes. While that may not sound like much, Earth's atmosphere, by comparison, is less than one millionth the mass of the planet. The wind speeds exceed Category 5 hurricane strength in places, reaching 220 miles per hour (350 kph).

"They are extraordinarily stable arrangements of such chaotic elements", said Morgan O'Neill, a University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar and a co-author on the paper. There are multiple cyclones, and they're arranged in a polygon shape. "We know with Cassini data that Saturn has a single cyclonic vortex at each pole".

To date, Juno has completed 10 science passes over Jupiter and logged nearly 122 million miles (200 million kilometers), since entering Jupiter's orbit on July 4, 2016.

Three papers appearing in Nature on March 8 answer a question that scientists have been asking ever since Galileo first observed the famous stripes of Jupiter: Are the colorful bands just a pretty surface phenomenon, or are they a significant stratum of the planet?