Miami (AFP) – An unmanned NASA spaceship circling Jupiter has spotted massive cyclones at the gas giant’s poles, revealing stunning new details about our solar system’s largest planet, researchers said Thursday.
A NASA statement described the planet as “a complex, gigantic, turbulent world” that is far different than scientists previously thought.
Two papers in the journal Science and 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters describe a trove of discoveries made since Juno began orbiting Jupiter last year.
“We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
“There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.”
A look at Jupiter’s poles has shown they are covered with dozens of densely clustered storms, possibly dropping hail or snow.
“Images of Jupiter’s previously-unseen poles show a chaotic scene of bright oval features,” said one of the studies in the journal Science.
These ovals, it turns out, are huge swirling storms, some of which measure up to 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) across.
Researchers found “signs of ammonia welling up from the deep atmosphere and forming giant weather systems.”
Now, more study is needed to better understand the nature of Jupiter’s storms, and why the planet acts this way.
– Juno mission –
The solar-powered Juno spacecraft launched in 2011, and made its first tour around Jupiter on August 27, 2016.
Juno moves in an elliptical orbit, skimming within 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) of Jupiter’s cloud tops and passing over the poles.
Juno’s mission is scheduled to end in February 2018, when the probe will self-destruct by diving into the planet’s atmosphere.
The $1.1 billion project aims to peer beneath the clouds around Jupiter for the first time to learn more about the planet’s atmosphere and how much water the planet contains.
“On our next flyby on…