The violent winds in Jupiter’s atmosphere have long fascinated astronomers and planetary researchers. Images from various telescopes and space probes show numerous cloud disturbances and strong east-west jet streams that extend across the planet in distinct red and white lines. Now an international team led by lead author Yohai Caspi of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science wants to settle a decades-old dispute. Using data from the Juno mission, scientists modeled that atmospheric winds rotate like hollow cylinders placed inside each other at different speeds around the planet’s rotation axis. Previous assumptions assumed that it extends diagonally in all directions. They present their results In the specialized journal “Natural Astronomy”.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been closely monitoring the violent activity in Jupiter’s atmosphere since 2016. The satellite has already orbited Jupiter 55 times and examined the atmosphere and clouds on the surface using the many scientific instruments on board. Astronomers will also track the spacecraft’s radio signal using NASA’s Deep Space Network, a global network of antennas, as Juno flies by Jupiter at nearly 125,000 miles per hour. This is about 85 times the speed of a jet. They use it to detect small changes in speed with an accuracy of up to 0.01 mm per second. These variations result from fluctuations in the planet’s gravitational field and can be used to learn more about the atmosphere.
“We processed the Juno data using a method originally developed for datasets from rocky planets like Earth,” explains Ryan Park, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and co-author, according to a press release. This is the first time such technology has been applied on a gas planet. The authors were able to increase the accuracy fourfold compared to previous models created using data from NASA’s Voyager and Galileo spacecraft.
The new gravitational field measurement data are essentially consistent with the 20-year-old theoretical prediction, according to which strong east-west currents extend inward from the white and red cloud regions. It also supports the idea that atmospheric winds are lined up cylindrically along Jupiter’s rotation axis, like the layers of a tree cake. The research team is certain that this means that the evaluation of the new measurement data has ended the debate about the nature of Jupiter’s atmosphere, which began in the 1970s.
“All 40 gravity parameters measured by Juno are consistent with model predictions, which arise if winds push inward in a cylindrical shape,” says Yohai Kaspi. “When we found that all 40 values matched our calculations exactly, it was like winning the lottery.” The new gravitational model not only improves the current understanding of Jupiter’s internal structure and origin, but can also be used to gain further insights into other planetary atmospheres that researchers are confident of.
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