Research

Nasa's Juno digs deep into Jupiter's ferocious Great Red Spot storm

Nasa's Juno digs deep into Jupiter's ferocious Great Red Spot storm

These glimpses of Jupiter's atmosphere, which look " like cream swirling in coffee", are the product of an army of space enthusiasts that process the images captured by Juno into ones that can captivate the human eye. "Juno data indicate that the solar system's most famous storm is nearly one-and-a-half Earth's wide, and has roots that penetrate about 200 miles (300 kilometers) into the planet's atmosphere".

The structure helps explain the the Great Red Spot's incredible speeds, which can hit between 270 to 425 miles per hour (430 to 680 kilometers per hour). Researchers have been running computer models to try to understand the old storm that is about 1.3 times as wide as Earth.

The boffins reckon the radiation comes from fast-moving uncharged atoms, created in the gas around the moons Io and Europa, becoming ions "as their electrons are stripped away by interaction with the upper atmosphere of Jupiter". The Voyager 1 and 2 probes, which passed by the Jupiter in 1979, had found that the Great Red Spot was twice the diameter of Earth.

This figure shows data from the six channels of Juno's microwave radiometer (MWR) instrument.

In the 19th century, the Great Red Spot was well over two Earths wide. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI.

The average width of this storm is about one-and-a-half Earths wide and goes as deep as 300 kilometers inside the Jupiter's atmosphere.

"One of the most basic questions about Jupiter's Great Red Spot is: how deep are the roots?" said Juno's principal investigator Dr. Scott Bolton, from the Southwest Research Institute.

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The researchers said that the Great Red Spot's base would be warmer than its top. The ferocious wind at the top of the atmosphere gives the clue of the warmth at the bottom.

The new Juno data also revealed the presence of a previously unknown radiation band near Jupiter's equator.

"Juno's Microwave Radiometer has the unique capability to peer deep below Jupiter's clouds", said Michael Janssen, Juno co-investigator from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We knew the radiation would probably surprise us, but we didn't think we'd find a new radiation zone that close to the planet".

Launched on August 5, 2011, Juno has completed eight science passes over Jupiter to date. Scientists aren't yet sure what kind of ions they are or where they come from.

The signatures are observed during Juno's high-latitude encounters with the electron belt, in regions never explored by prior spacecraft.

The findings, based on data collected by the Juno spacecraft during its first pass over Jupiter's Great Red Spot in July 2017, were announced on Monday at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans. Becker and her colleagues are still studying the exact nature of these particles.


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