Science

NASA'S Juno spacecraft finds chaotic weather, massive cyclones over Jupiter's poles

Once it began skimming Jupiter's cloud tops last year, NASA's Juno spacecraft spotted chaotic weather, including enormous cyclones over the planet's poles, according to new research.

Results of research ' changing our understanding of this gas giant,' researchers say

This image shows Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 52,000 kilometres. The oval features are cyclones, up to 1,000 kilometres in diameter. Multiple images taken with the JunoCam instrument on three separate orbits were combined to show all areas in daylight, enhanced colour and stereographic projection. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles)

Once it began skimming the giant gas planet's cloud tops last year, NASA's Juno spacecraft spotted chaotic weather, including enormous cyclones over Jupiter's poles, according to new research.

Scientists released their first major findings Thursday.

"What we've learned so far is earth-shattering. Or should I say, Jupiter-shattering," Southwest Research Institute's Scott Bolton, Juno's chief scientist, said in a statement.

Turning counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere just like on Earth, the cyclones are hundreds of kilometres across and clustered near the poles. The diameters of some of these cyclones stretch 1,400 kilometres. Even bigger, though shapeless weather systems — spanning many thousands of kilometres — are present in both polar regions.

The cyclones are separate from Jupiter's trademark Great Red Spot, a raging hurricane-like storm south of the equator.

Launched in 2011 and orbiting Jupiter since last summer, Juno is providing the best close-up views ever of our solar system's largest planet. Besides polar cyclones, Juno has detected an overwhelming abundance of ammonia in Jupiter's deep atmosphere and a surprisingly strong magnetic field — roughly 10 times greater than Earth's.

"The results from Juno's initial close passes of Jupiter are changing our understanding of this gas giant," the researchers wrote in one of two articles that appeared in the journal Science.

Jupiter's poles appear dramatically different from neighbouring Saturn's, according to the scientists, with nothing like the hexagon-shaped cloud system over Saturn's north pole.

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