The cyclones that surround Jupiter's poles still baffle space scientists

The cyclones that surround Jupiter’s poles still baffle space scientists

Nature Astronomy (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01774-0″ width=”800″ height=”530″/>

Infrared image of Jupiter’s northern hemisphere as seen by JIRAM. Credit: Astronomy of nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01774-0

A team of space scientists affiliated with several US institutions, working with a colleague in Italy and another in France, used modeling to partially explain the strength of the cyclones that surround Jupiter’s poles. In their paper published in the journal Astronomy of naturegroup describes how they analyzed images captured by the Juno spacecraft and used what they learned to create models of shallow water that could at least partially explain how cyclones last so long.

In 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered an orbit around Jupiter. Unlike other such probes, it circled the planet from pole to pole rather than around its equator. As the probe began sending back images of the planet from this new perspective, researchers who examined them found a surprise. Not only was there a single cyclone sitting atop each of the poles, but both were surrounded by multiple cyclones. As time went on, more pictures of the poles arrived, and researchers who study them continue to be surprised by the stability of the cyclones – the original ones are still there today and haven’t even changed shape. Such behavior is, of course, unheard of here on Earth – cyclones form, travel for a while, and then dissipate. Such behavior has left researchers scrambling to come up with a reasonable explanation for what they observed.

Photographs of the planet’s north pole show that there are eight cyclones surrounding the central cyclone directly across the pole. All eight are in close proximity and all are nearly equidistant from the central cyclone and are arranged in an octagonal pattern. At this time, it is not clear whether the cyclones rotate around the center. There is a similar arrangement at the South Pole, only there are only five cyclones, in the shape of a pentagon. In this new effort, the researchers tried a new approach to explain how cyclones persist for so long, and how they do it without changing their position or shape.

Ciclonii care înconjoară polii lui Jupiter încă îi derutează pe oamenii de știință spațiali

Vorticity and divergence derived from two independent wind determinations. Credit: Astronomy of nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01774-0

The team’s work involved analyzing images and other data from the Juno probe, looking in particular at wind speeds and direction. They then took what they learned and used it to create models of shallow water, leading them to suggest that there is an “anticyclonic ring” of winds moving in the opposite direction to the cyclones, which keeps them in place . And while this may be true, the team was unable to find any signs of convection, which would have helped explain how the heat was used to power the cyclones. They acknowledge that much more work will need to be done to fully explain the behavior of Jupiter’s cyclones.

Ocean physics explains Jupiter’s cyclones

More information:
Andrew P. Ingersoll et al., Up to 200 km-scale vorticity and divergence in and around Jupiter’s polar cyclones, Astronomy of nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01774-0

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