Scientists have published a set of three papers in journal Nature that looks at the strange storms on Jupiter as well as the secrets the gaseous giant is hiding underneath the seruface.
One of the major questions that scientists look at in the papers is whether the colorful bands on Jupiter’s surface just a pretty surface phenomenon, or are they a significant stratum of the planet? Using data and measurements from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, scientists were able to analyze and reveal that these colorful stripes – belts of strong winds circling the planet – extend to a depth of about 3,000 km (about 1,900 miles).
This finding indicates that these winds go much deeper than previous estimates, and is revising scientists’ picture of Jupiter’s atmosphere as well as its inner layers.
Juno provides data to scientists that enable them to understand what lies below the planet’s surface. Among the measurements Juno beams back to Earth are those of the planet’s gravity field. This is done via radio waves: as the planet’s gravity pulls on the spacecraft during its flyby, the radio signal is also shifted a bit; this shift in the wavelengths, though tiny, is measurable. And since the flybys are in different orbits each time, they can sample the gravitational field of different parts of the planet.
Researchers found that the wind belts that encircle the planet are much stronger than the fiercest winds on Earth, and they have lasted for at least hundreds of years. As these jets flow in bands from east to west or west to east, they disrupt the even distribution of mass on the planet. Thus, by measuring the imbalance – the changes in the planet’s gravitational field – the scientists’ analytical tools would be able to calculate how deep the storms extend below the surface.
The team looked for anomalies – measurements that show the planet deviating from a perfect sphere. They expected a certain anomaly because the planet’s rotation squashes its shape slightly, but additional anomalies in the measurements would most likely be due to winds in the atmosphere.
Based on the asymmetry in the gravitational fields between north to south, the researchers determined that the wind belts – those stripes observed by Galileo – extend 3,000 km (almost 1,900 mi) deep. The calculations based on these findings show that Jupiter’s atmosphere is 1% of its total mass. That may not sound like a lot, but in comparison, Earth’s atmosphere is less than a millionth of its total mass.
The subject of Jupiter’s core is not yet closed, and the researchers aim to analyze further measurements to see whether Jupiter has a solid core and, if so, to determine its mass. Answering this question may help us understand how the Solar System and its planets formed.