Screaming-Fast Jet Streams 1,800 Miles Deep Are The Secret Behind Jupiter's Colorful Bands According To New NASA Juno Data

Friday, 10 August 2018 - 1:37PM
Space
Astrophysics
Friday, 10 August 2018 - 1:37PM
Screaming-Fast Jet Streams 1,800 Miles Deep Are The Secret Behind Jupiter's Colorful Bands According To New NASA Juno Data
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NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/JunoCam
Jupiter has long held stargazers in thrall with swirling tiger stripes punctuated by a carnelian storm. Now scientists from the United States and Australia think they know what is painting these marbled bands: new evidence from the NASA Juno spacecraft has revealed an astonishing link between the planet's atmosphere and its magnetic fields. The findings were just reported in The Astrophysical Journal.

Jupiter is a layer cake of a planet, with blankets of gas floating on top of each other in decreasing densities. (It may not even have a solid core.) The inner atmosphere is composed of hydrogen and helium. Its outer atmosphere, however – where we see such vivid hues of oranges, browns, and yellows – is predominantly ammonia.

NASA Juno just returned data revealing that these bands of ammonia are shaped by screaming-fast jet streams in Jupiter's atmosphere. These jet streams penetrate as deep as 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) down through the planet's atmosphere – they're about as tall as the distance from Washington, DC, to Guatemala.

What causes them to stop short at 1,800 miles, though? According to Dr. Jeffrey Parker from Livermore National Laboratory, "The gas in the interior of Jupiter is magnetised, so we think our new theory explains why the jet streams go as deep as they do under the gas giant's surface but don't go any deeper."

These revelations go hand-in-hand with what we know about jet streams on Earth. "Earth's jet streams have a huge impact on the weather and climate by acting as a barrier and making it harder for air on either side of them to exchange properties such as heat, moisture and carbon," said Dr. Navid Constantinou of the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences. These jet streams influence Earth's climate, moving in irregular waves across the globe.

Jupiter's jet streams are straight as an arrow, which gives us those defined bands of brilliant color. Dr. Parker explains, "There are no continents and mountains below Jupiter's atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams…This makes the jet streams on Jupiter simpler. By studying Jupiter, not only do we unravel the mysteries in the interior of the gas giant, but we can also use Jupiter as a laboratory for studying how atmospheric flows work in general."

Scientists can call it whatever they want. Understanding the "simple" fundamentals behind something we took for granted all our lives only enhances our appreciation for the beauty of that iridescent marble spinning just beyond the asteroid belt.

Science
NASA
Space
Astrophysics
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