Miami - An unmanned NASA spaceship circling Jupiter has spotted massive cyclones at the gas giant's poles, revealing new details about our solar system's largest planet, researchers say on Thursday 25 May.
"Images of Jupiter's previously-unseen poles show a chaotic scene of bright oval features," says the study in the journal Science.
These ovals, it turns out, are huge swirling storms, some of which measure up to 1,400 kilometers across.
A trove of data from the probe's initial encounters has shown unexpected features related to these huge brewing storms.
Researchers found "signs of ammonia welling up from the deep atmosphere and forming giant weather systems," according to one of two studies on Jupiter published in the journal Science.
Multiple images combined show Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 51,499 kilometers. The oval features are cyclones. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles)
The Juno spacecraft launched in 2011, and made its first tour around Jupiter on 27 August 2016. It moves in an elliptical orbit, skimming within 5,000 kilometers of Jupiter's cloud tops and passing over the poles.
Juno's main mission began in July and is scheduled to end in February 2018, when the probe will self-destruct by diving into the planet's atmosphere.
The 1.1 billion dollar project aims to peer beneath the clouds around Jupiter for the first time to learn more about the planet's atmosphere. Scientists also want to know how much water the planet contains, because it can tell them a lot about when and how the planet formed.
Expanding magnetic field
Juno has also taken measurements of Jupiter's gravitational field, to see if it has a solid core, as models have predicted. "Close to the planet, the field greatly exceeded expectations," says the report.
"It is substantially stronger than models predicted, at 7.766 Gauss, or roughly ten times Earth's magnetic field."
A second study in Science looked at the region where the planet's magnetic field dominates over the solar wind. It said Jupiter's magnetic field, or magnetosphere, may have been expanding when Juno approached.
"Juno encountered the giant planet's bow shock, essentially a stationary shockwave, as it entered the magnetosphere" on 24 June 2016, it says.
"Since the spacecraft only encountered one bow shock as it approached the planet, compared to multiple encounters on subsequent orbits, this suggests that the magnetosphere was expanding in size at the time."Juno also detected huge auroras, known on Earth as Northern Lights, and "downward-traveling electron beams that shower energy into Jupiter's upper atmosphere."
"Intriguingly these electron showers appear to have a different distribution from those that occur on Earth, suggesting a radically different conceptual model of Jupiter's interaction with its space environment."
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