NASA mission discovers Jupiter's inner secrets

NASA spacecraft Juno has collected new data on its mission to Jupiter revealing some of the swirling inner mysteries of the giant gas planet.

Posted: Mar 11, 2018 12:16 PM
Updated: Mar 11, 2018 12:18 PM

NASA spacecraft Juno has collected new data on its mission to Jupiter revealing some of the swirling inner mysteries of the giant gas-planet.

The surface of Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun and the largest in the solar system, consists of alternating bright and dark bands of gas and winds flowing in opposite directions at massive speed.

Previously there have been extensive studies of the helium-and-hydrogen planet's surface, but now gravity measurements collected by Juno indicate that this turbulent outer layer extends to a depth of 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers).

"Galileo viewed the stripes on Jupiter more than 400 years ago," Yohai Kaspi, Juno co-investigator from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, and lead author of a Nature paper on Jupiter's deep weather layer, was quoted as saying on NASA's website.

"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. Now, following the Juno gravity measurements, we know how deep the jets extend and what their structure is beneath the visible clouds," said Kaspi, who likened the advancement to going from a "2-D picture to a 3-D version in high definition."

The planet's origins

Scientists hope the ongoing mission's findings, which have been published in four papers in Nature, will improve understanding of Jupiter's interior structure, core mass and, eventually, its origin.

Among the mission's discoveries is that massive cyclones that surround Jupiter's north and south poles are enduring atmospheric features and unlike anything else encountered in the solar system, the NASA report said.

"Juno's measurement of Jupiter's gravity field indicates a north-south asymmetry, similar to the asymmetry observed in its zones and belts," said Luciano Iess, Juno co-investigator from Sapienza University of Rome, and lead author on a Nature paper on Jupiter's gravity field.

"On a gas planet, such an asymmetry can only come from flows deep within the planet; and on Jupiter, the visible eastward and westward jet streams are likewise asymmetric north and south.

"The deeper the jets, the more mass they contain, leading to a stronger signal expressed in the gravity field. Thus, the magnitude of the asymmetry in gravity determines how deep the jet streams extend."

The mission also found that the planet's interior rotates as a solid body, despite its fluid nature.

"This is really an amazing result, and future measurements by Juno will help us understand how the transition works between the weather layer and the rigid body below," said Tristan Guillot, a Juno co-investigator from the Université Côte d'Azur, Nice, France, and lead author of the paper on Jupiter's deep interior.

"Juno's discovery has implications for other worlds in our solar system and beyond."

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