Twenty-five years ago, NASA sent history’s first probe into the atmosphere of the solar system’s largest planet. But the information returned by the Galileo probe during its descent into Jupiter caused head-scratching: The atmosphere it was plunging into was much denser and hotter than scientists expected.
New data from NASA’s Juno spacecraft suggests that these “hot spots” are much wider and deeper than anticipated. The findings on Jupiter’s hot spots, along with an update on Jupiter’s polar cyclones, were revealed on Dec. 11, during a virtual media briefing at the American Geophysical Union’s fall conference.
Two of Jupiter’s major northern hurricanes can be seen in a new moving image from the JunoCam camera, created from five images taken from altitudes of about 18,000 miles (28,567 kilometers) above Jupiter’s cloud cover.
Outer clouds in tornadoes rotate counterclockwise, but the inner clouds rotate clockwise, which is “somewhat strange,” said Candice Hansen, a JunoCam developer and a senior scientist at the Institute of Planetary Sciences in Tucson, Arizona.
The different directions of rotation in hurricanes may have to do with their vertical structures. “These clouds may be at different levels in the atmosphere,” Hansen said. She added, “We are looking forward to getting microwave data soon so that we can see how deep the” roots “are in these polar hurricanes.
Scott Bolton, principal investigator at Juno at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said that understanding gas giants with deep atmospheric envelopes such as Jupiter requires staring away from the cloud layer, and Juno “does just that.”
“The spacecraft’s observations shed light on ancient mysteries and pose new questions, not only about Jupiter, but about all the gigantic gas worlds,” Bolton added.