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Data from NASA's Jupiter probe reveals 'astonishing' details about the planet

Data from NASA's Jupiter probe reveals 'astonishing' details about the planet

The cyclone-infested upper atmosphere of our solar system's biggest planet has been unveiled in intricate detail, with striking new images from NASA's Juno probe.

"Infra-red images obtained from above each pole by the Juno spacecraft during its first five orbits reveal persistent polygonal patterns of large cyclones", researchers wrote. Other believed that these thick clouds were instead quite shallow, just occupying the first few hundred kilometers of Jupiter's atmosphere. But Juno findings suggest that the phenomenon is actually caused by what makes Earth's very faintest light shows.

Researchers poring over these datasets are finally uncovering some of the planet's mysteries. Refined measurements of Jupiter's uneven gravity field enabled the Weizmann Institute of Science's Yohai Kaspi in Rehovot, Israel, and his colleagues to calculate the depth of the jet streams at about 3,000 kilometers, or 1,865 miles.

Jupiter's poles are blanketed by geometric clusters of cyclones and its atmosphere is deeper than scientists suspected.

"Juno is created to look beneath these clouds", said planetary science professor Yohai Kaspi of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led part of the research using Juno's new measurements of Jupiter's gravity.

"The manner in which the cyclones persist without merging and the process by which they evolve to their current configuration are unknown". They showed that the field changes from the north to the south pole.

"Each one of the northern cyclones is nearly as wide as the distance between Naples, Italy and New York City, and the southern ones are even larger than that", said Alberto Adriani, Juno co-investigator from the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome and lead author of a fourth paper in Nature describing the features.

Using similar techniques, Juno could help scientists determine the depth of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a colossal swirling storm, Fortney said in a companion article in the journal.

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Overall, nine cyclones were spotted over Jupiter's north pole and six over the south pole.

Juno spends much of is time far out of reach from the worst of the planet's intense radiation belts, but swoops in once every orbit to focus on the planet beneath the stormy clouds on the surface.

According to NASA, Juno science results include that the massive cyclones that surround Jupiter's north and south poles are enduring atmospheric features and unlike anything else encountered in our solar system. "This was certainly a surprise". "The remarkable thing about this", said Galanti, "is that we were able to directly measure the signature of the flows themselves".

The research is one of four new papers on Jupiter set to be published Thursday that use Juno data to try and better understand the huge planet, which still holds many mysteries beneath and within its dense atmosphere. At the point where those deep jet streams start to decay, the pressure is about 100,000 times that of the atmosphere at Earth's surface.

New findings from NASA's Juno spacecraft show Jupiter's weather systems extend much deeper than previously believed and that the huge planet rotates almost as a rigid body below the racing jet streams, storms and cyclones.

Scientists also discovered that Jupiter's gaseous core rotates like a solid body. Now we know that those jet streams are very deep, we also know that the gravity variation is much greater than we previously expected.

To tackle this question, Juno measured Jupiter's gravitational field.

Using a large antenna from NASA's Deep Space Network of radio telescopes tuned in to a special transponder on Juno provided by the Italian Space Agency, the team repeatedly searched for any unexplained anomalies in the spacecraft's trajectory.