Quirks & Quarks

Planet-sized cyclones just one highlight of Juno's new views of Jupiter

Scientists with NASA's Juno mission have just released a treasure-trove of new data about the inner workings of the giant planet.
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Juno reveals Jupiter's secrets

NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter has just released a treasure-trove of data on our solar system's largest planet. Several studies released this week revealed details about its core, its gravitational field, and its stormy poles. This information feeds into Juno's overall project, which is understanding better what Jupiter is made of so we can determine how it formed 4.6 billion years ago, and how it's evolved since.

The Storms

Some of the most beautiful images from the mission are of the enormous cyclones that encircle the poles. These storms resemble geometric arrangements of fiery roses, and according to  Dr. Scott Bolton, the Principal Investigator for the Juno mission, and Associate Vice president of the Southwest Research for Science and Engineering, they were a significant surprise. Juno is the first spacecraft to fly over Jupiter's poles, so these storms were a new discovery. The north pole has eight cyclones circling a central storm, while the south pole contains five cyclones around a central storm. Researchers are now trying to better understand what drives these enormous storms, how long they might last, why they cluster as they do, and how deeply into the atmosphere they reach.
Jovian clouds in striking shades of blue, in an image taken on one of Juno's close approaches. This is Dr. Bolton's favourite image (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/ Seán Doran)

The Core

One of the important questions the Juno mission aims to answer is about Jupiter's core. New gravitational readings suggested that Jupiter has several layers. Below the visible surface they found evidence of a large and diffuse core made up of a fluid mix of helium and hydrogen. Below that they still hope to determine if Jupiter has a denser core of heavier elements like the kind that make up Earth, but the current observations haven't answered that question yet.
Swirling clouds formations around Jupiter's south pole (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt)

More Questions than Answers

The Juno mission is already a huge success, providing some answers about the giant planet, but also posing new questions. However more information is on its way. Juno is only one third of the way through its mission and scientists are confident it will provide more valuable information - and more surprises before the missions is scheduled to end in 2021