Science

Jupiter has the craziest storms seen yet, say boffins

New pics make the gas giant's poles look like portals to hell

By Katyanna Quach

53 SHARE

Jupiter has the strangest storm behavior observed to date, with formation patterns that have never been seen elsewhere.

The latest pictures taken from NASA’s Juno spacecraft reveal the hidden cyclones at its poles. At the north pole, eight swirling storms circled another storm at the center, and at the south pole, another five storms encircle a central vortex. These regions are not normally visible from Earth because of the planet’s low axial tilt.

The results have been analyzed in a paper published in Nature on Wednesday. It is one of four papers presented in the scientific journal detailing different parts of Jupiter, including its cluster of cyclones, gravity field, its interior, and atmosphere.

Morgan O’Neill, co-author of the cyclone paper and a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, said: “They are extraordinarily stable arrangements of such chaotic elements. We'd never seen anything like it."

She points to a similar behavior that emerged in the 1990’s when a group of physicists used electrons to model the motion of a chaotic, frictionless 2-D fluid as it cools. Small eddies would congregate together to form “vortex crystals” around a center.

The cyclical nature is down to the coriolis effect. When mass moves on a rotating body, it experiences a force that acts perpendicular from its motion and from the axis of rotation. In another paper, it is estimated that Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere involves about 1 per cent of its total mass.

The storms at Jupiter's south pole arranged in a pentagon. Image credit: NASA/SWRI/JPL/ASI/INAF/IAPS

It’s unknown, however, how these storms hold their shape without merging into one another. How they were started and evolved to the current configuration is also unclear. At both poles, the cyclones are locked in polygonal formations. The north pole has an octagonal structure, and the south pole has a pentagon shape.

The next step is to build simulations to study the mechanics behind these storms. “Can you create a model that builds a virtual planet and predicts these flows? With further studies, they can understand the forces at play in the swirling storms,” O’Neill said.

JIRAM (Jupiter InfraRed Auroral Mapper), an infrared camera, and JunoCam, a visible light camera, snapped pictures when Juno passed close to the gas giant. Over the course of August 2016 to March 2017, the spacecraft carried out six flybys.

Juno was launched in 2011 and entered Jupiter’s orbit in 2016. It flies approximately 4,000 kilometers above the clouds and can zip from the pole to the equator in about two hours. It is expected to continue its mission until July, later this year. ®

Sign up to our NewsletterGet IT in your inbox daily

53 Comments

More from The Register

Sorry, but NASA says Mars signal wasn't Opportunity knocking

Mislabelled signal raised rover fans' hopes, just for a while

Houston, we've had a problem: NASA fears internal server hacked, staff personal info swiped by miscreants

Another leak, this time it's personal. Plus: Trump launches Space Force, er, Command

NASA gently nudges sleeping space 'scopes Chandra, Hubble out of gyro-induced stupor

X-ray probe could be awake by end of this week

NASA's Kepler probe rouses from its slumber, up and running again

The old space telescope isn't giving up

NASA's Chandra probe suddenly becomes an EX-ray space telescope (for now, anyway)

Aging kit kicks into safe mode, 65,000+ miles away

Pulses quicken at NASA as SpaceX gets closer to crewed launches and Russia readies the next Soyuz

If only there was some way the agency could unwind a bit. Or maybe not

Martian weather has cleared at last: Now NASA's wondering, will Opportunity knock?

45 days of 'WAKE UP' calls to be shouted at teenage rover

NASA's Kepler telescope is sent back to sleep as scientists preserve fuel for the next data dump

Fingers crossed that the wee probe has enough energy to send something back

50 years ago: NASA blasts off the first humans to experience a lunar close encounter

The previous Saturn V didn't go so well, but you guys will be fine. Trust us

FYI: NASA has sent a snatch-and-grab spacecraft to an asteroid to seize some rock and send it back to Earth

Off-planet manic miner reaches orbit around its prey: Bennu