NASA scientists have released new infrared images of Jupiter that capture massive cyclones and anticyclones forming over the gassy planet’s north pole.
The 3-D animations, captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft during a recent fly-around of the planet’s north pole, reveal a cyclone surrounded by eight smaller cyclones, each ranging from 4,000 to 4,600 kilometres in diametre.
The new information was made available by the spacecraft’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument, which makes it possible to view the planet’s weather layer more than 50 kilometres below its cloud tops.
“Before Juno, we could only guess what Jupiter’s poles would look like,” Juno co-investigator Alberto Adriani said in a statement. “Now, with Juno flying over the poles at a close distance, it permits the collection of infrared imagery on Jupiter’s polar weather patterns and its massive cyclones in unprecedented spatial resolution.”
The new images were released as part of the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, on April 11.
Juno’s fly-by also provided researchers with a better understanding of how the interior of our solar system’s largest planet rotates.
“Prior to Juno, we could not distinguish between extreme models of Jupiter’s interior rotation, which all fitted the data collected by Earth-based observations, and other deep space missions,” said Tristan Guillot, a Juno co-investigator. “Thanks to the amazing increase in accuracy brought by Juno’s gravity data, we have essentially solved the issue of how Jupiter’s interior rotates.”
Images captured by Juno are also providing scientists with a greater understanding of the planet’s interior structure, composition and magnetic field. This data will help researchers guide the spacecraft’s remaining observations.
Juno has logged nearly 200 million kilometers over the course of the 11 passes it has completed since entering Jupiter’s orbit in 2016. The spacecraft’s 12th pass will be on May 24.