Juno spacecraft providing 'unprecedented' info — Tour Jupiter

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The new revelations changed the perspective of the gas giant completely and scientists claim that it is like looking at a completely new planet. The findings will improve understanding of Jupiter's interior structure, core mass and, eventually, its origin.

One group uncovered a constellation of nine cyclones over Jupiter's north pole and six over the south pole.

Up until now, what humanity knew was that the bands were an expression of Jovian weather related to winds blowing eastward and westward at different speeds.

- said Luciano Iess, Juno co-investigator from the Sapienza University of Rome, and lead author on a Nature paper on Jupiter's gravity field.

It revealed the asymmetrical flow in the north and south hemispheres, a signature of the planet's atmospheric and interior flows. Thus, the magnitude of the asymmetry in gravity determines how deep the jet streams extend.

"Since Jupiter is basically a giant ball of gas, the initial expectation was that there would be no asymmetries in the gravity field between the north and south", said Professor Yohai Kaspi from The Weizmann Institute in Israel and lead author of the research paper recently submitted to Nature.

Until now, we only had a superficial understanding of them and have been able to relate these stripes to cloud features along Jupiters jets. It's like going from a 2-D picture to a 3-D version in high definition.

"The result is a surprise because this indicates that the atmosphere of Jupiter is massive and extends much deeper than we previously expected", Mr. Kaspi said in an email. The Jovian weather layer, from its very top to a depth of 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers), contains about one percent of Jupiter's mass (about 3 Earth masses). The mass of these jet streams to be about 1 per cent of the total mass of the gas giant which is 300 times that of the earth.

"That is much more than anyone thought and more than what has been known from other planets in the Solar System", says Kaspi. The instrument takes images of light that emerge from deep within the planet. JIRAM probes the weather layer down to 30 to 45 miles (50 to 70 kilometers) below Jupiter's cloud tops.

Of all the images released by Juno to date, the computer-reconstructed infrared views of Jupiter's atmosphere, like the one pictured above, are particularly awe-inspiring.

Adriani explained that the width of each of the northern cyclones is the distance between New York City and Naples, and the Southern cyclones are even more massive in comparison.

Each cyclone spans thousands of miles each with wind speeds reaching 220 mph, exceeding the strength of a Category-5 hurricane.

The co-investigator also added that the remarkable feature about the cyclones is that they are enduring and very close together. It's only the second spacecraft to circle the planet; Galileo did it from 1995 to 2003.

The polar cyclones at both the poles are densely packed to such an extent that the spiral arm of one cyclone comes in contact with the other. Interestingly, even though the Cyclones are spaced tightly, they still remain distinct and have morphologies that are individual. "We know with Cassini data that Saturn has a single cyclonic vortex at each pole". The observation has led Adriani to believe that not all gaseous giant planets are created equal. On Feb. 7, Juno completed its 10th science orbit of Jupiter.

Juno launched on August 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. And thanks to Juno and the information the spacecraft sends back to Earth through radiowaves, scientists are able to map Jupiter's gravitational field and compile more information about the inner-workings of the planet. After that, a scientist at the Pasadena Laboratory in California will be having to reach a decision regarding the satellite's next mission in outer space. The images were captured by the JIRAM instrument on the Juno spacecraft.