Science Breakthrough: The Mystery of Jupiter’s Polar Cyclones Solved | Science | News

NASA: Development of a dawn storm in Jupiter’s polar northern lights

Earlier this year, NASA’s Juno spacecraft sent back the first evidence that the massive polar storms on Jupiter – best characterized by the spotted clouds of red and yellow – are driven by a similar process to those that control the oceans on Earth. Jupiter’s atmosphere is one of the most turbulent places in the solar system, more hostile than Venus ‘boiling hot plains, Saturn’s toxic air and Uranus’ icy desert. Thanks to Juno’s work, we know that Jupiter’s poles are home to giant, persistent cyclones that rotate around low-pressure areas without spreading.

The mystery of why Jupiter’s cyclones have remained so stable has fascinated scientists since they were first observed in 2016.

This is because they seem to defy science: the number of cyclones remains fixed at eight at the North Pole and five at the South.

Three clusters of large cyclones are up to 5,000 kilometers wide – wider than the United States.

Each is connected by intermediate (about 500 to 1,600 kilometers wide) and smaller vortices (vortices) and filaments (features formed by the turbulent agitation of the water) about 100 kilometers wide.

Space: Scientists were able to make a connection between the Earth's oceans and the polar cyclones

Space: Scientists were able to make a connection between the Earth’s oceans and the polar cyclones (Image: GETTY)

Juno: The satellite was launched into space in 2011

Juno: The satellite was launched into space in 2011 (Image: GETTY)

A study published in the scientific journal Nature Physics has since provided evidence that these enormous Jovian cyclones at Jupiter’s poles are supported by the same forces that drive the Earth’s ocean vortices.

In physics, because both liquid and gases can flow, they are both considered to be liquids.

Just like on Earth, the warmer, less dense air from deep inside the gas giant’s atmosphere is more liquid and therefore rises where it condenses and forms clouds.

Meanwhile, cooler and denser air flows downward.

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NASA: Some of the breathtaking photos taken by Juno

NASA: Some of the breathtaking photos taken by Juno (Image: GETTY)

On Jupiter, the rapidly rising air in these clouds acts as a source of energy.

It drives energy transfer and feeds the large circumpolar and polar cycles in a process called moist convection.

Lia Siegelman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), who led the study, said the images sent back reminded her of activity seen in the ocean.

She told the BBC’s Science Focus magazine: “When I saw the richness of the turbulence around the Jovian cyclones with all the filaments and smaller vortices (small vortices), it reminded me of the turbulence one sees in the ocean around vortices.

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Solar System: Another great picture Juno took

Solar System: Another great picture Juno took (Image: GETTY)

Space news: The polar cyclones remain solid, something that had confused scientists

Space news: The polar cyclones remain solid, something that had confused scientists (Image: GETTY)

“These are especially evident on high-resolution satellite images of plankton blooms, for example.”

By analyzing a series of detailed infrared images sent to them by Juno, the researchers were able to confirm the broader hypothesis: that these cyclones in Jupiter’s north polar region were formed through moist convection.

They measured temperature, calculated wind speed and tracked cloud movements.

By comparing these measurements with data interpreted from infrared images of cloud thickness (thin clouds corresponding to hot areas, thick clouds to cold areas), Siegelman and her team were able to map the massive storms.

Science Focus: The study was explored in the February issue of the magazine

Science Focus: The study was explored in the February issue of the magazine (Image: BBC)

Red spot: Jupiter is perhaps most famous for its swirling red spot

Red spot: Jupiter is perhaps most famous for its swirling red spot (Image: GETTY)

Juno is currently in a polar orbit around Jupiter, and therefore he could in theory send more images back to Earth if that is what scientists require.

While the processes on Jupiter are on a much larger scale than on Earth, Ms. Siegelman said that understanding the gas giant’s energy system could help highlight energy routes at play on our own planet.

She said: “Being able to study a planet that is so far away and find the physics that apply there is fascinating.

“That raises the question, do these processes also apply to our own blue dot?”

Gas Giant: The Spot shows a raging gas storm of about 10,000 miles across

Gas Giant: The Spot shows a raging gas storm of about 10,000 miles across (Image: GETTY)

Juno first set out on his space journey in 2011.

It is currently planned to continue its operations until 2025.

Between now and then, it is expected to make several more passing flights of Jupiter.

You can subscribe to BBC Science Focus here.

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