Thursday, January 27

The first 3D view of Jupiter’s atmosphere allows scientists to peer into the heart of the monstrous Great Red Spot (and much more)

The Juno probe arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and did it to stay. Since then, has made 37 passes over the planet looking obsessively at what is really happening under that blanket of clouds that surrounds it. The result is the most complete picture of its atmosphere, the inner workings of its belts and cloud areas, and key details about polar cyclones and the famous Great Red Spot.

That is, after five years of work we have achieved the first 3D view of the gas giant’s atmosphere.

On the edge of the monster

“Juno has surprised us in the past with clues that Jupiter’s atmospheric phenomena were deeper than we expected.” explained Scott Bolton, principal investigator for the mission. “Now, we are starting to put all these individual pieces together and get our first real understanding of how Jupiter’s beautiful and violent atmosphere works in 3D”.

The most curious thing, however, is how it has allowed us take a look at that huge vortex storm of more than 16,000 kilometers which we call the Great Red Spot. At the top there is a graph showing its size compared to Earth and yes, indeed, it is wider than our beloved planet Earth.

So we now know that storms are much deeper than we thought. Most of them extend more than 100 kilometers towards the heart of the planet, but some, like the Great Red Spot, sink their roots 350 kilometers. Thus, vortexes cover regions far beyond where sunlight is capable of heating the atmosphere.

Another thing that we begin to understand better when we see the dynamics of Jupiter’s atmosphere are the white and reddish belts that surround the planet. We already knew (also from Juno) that they are jet streams that reach depths of 3,200 kilometers. Now we know that arise from the interaction of ammonia gas moving up and down perfectly aligned with the belt winds (and that se are very similar to the mechanisms that organize earthly atmospheric flows).