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Once it began skimming the giant gas planet’s cloud tops last year, NASA’s Juno spacecraft spotted chaotic weather, including enormous cyclones over Jupiter’s poles, according to new research.
Scientists released their first major findings Thursday.
“What we’ve learned so far is earth-shattering. Or should I say, Jupiter-shattering,” Southwest Research Institute’s Scott Bolton, Juno’s chief scientist, said in a statement.
Turning counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere just like on Earth, the cyclones are hundreds of kilometres across and clustered near the poles. The diameters of some of these cyclones stretch 1,400 kilometres. Even bigger, though shapeless weather systems — spanning many thousands of kilometres — are present in both polar regions.
The cyclones are separate from Jupiter’s trademark Great Red Spot, a raging hurricane-like storm south of the equator.
Launched in 2011 and orbiting Jupiter since last summer, Juno is providing the best close-up views ever of our solar system’s largest planet. Besides polar cyclones, Juno has detected an overwhelming abundance of ammonia in Jupiter’s deep atmosphere and a surprisingly strong magnetic field — roughly 10 times greater than Earth’s.
“The results from Juno’s initial close passes of Jupiter are changing our understanding of this gas giant,” the researchers wrote in one of two articles that appeared in the journal Science.
Jupiter’s poles appear dramatically different from neighbouring Saturn’s, according to the scientists, with nothing like the hexagon-shaped cloud system over Saturn’s north pole.