Ever since the space probe Juno gave us our first incredible views of Jupiter’s poles, the fields have fascinated and charmed us.
In one of the latest photos Juno sent back to the North Pole, you can see why: a mix of storm vortexes, linked and intertwined, appearing calm from afar, but raging with an intensity We can only imagine here on earth.
The image was obtained during Juno’s 43rd close flyby of our solar system’s giant planet on July 5, when the spacecraft skimmed relatively close to 25,100 kilometers (15,600 mi) above the tops of the polar clouds. Because of its axial orientation, Jupiter’s poles are not visible to us most of the time, so planetary scientists rely on Juno data to study the atmospheric dynamics at play in these mysterious and stormy regions.
The image above looks relatively cool; Zoom in on the top of Jupiter’s clouds, however, and you begin to feel the mind-boggling scale and speed of the planet’s seasons, as seen in this earlier image processed by NASA engineer Kevin Gill, embedded below.
“These powerful storms can be greater than 30 miles (50 kilometers) in height and hundreds of miles in length,” a JPL NASA spokesperson wrote on the JPL website.
“Finding how they form is important for understanding Jupiter’s atmosphere, as well as the fluid dynamics and cloud chemistry that form the planet’s other atmospheric features. Scientists are particularly concerned about the varying sizes of vortices. , interested in the sizes and colors.”
Each pole of Jupiter has its own specific arrangement of storms. At the South Pole – or rather, – are six cyclones, each of which is roughly the size of the continental United States, with one in the center and five hurricanes circling around it in a nearly perfect pentagon, all clockwise.
Between Juno flybys, scientists could observe the appearance of a seventh storm, so the Pentagon became a hexagon. (This is different from Saturn’s north polar hexagon, which is a hexagon-shaped storm.)
The North Pole is even stranger: There, scientists identified nine storms, eight around one in the center, all rotating counterclockwise. And, in the high latitude regions around these two central polar formations of storms, other vortices rage.
Using Juno data, scientists have identified a mechanism by which these storms remain separate rather than merging into a mega-storm, as we see at Saturn’s poles. Tracking changes between Juno flybys is one of the most important tools planetary scientists have for understanding wild weather on Jupiter, particularly its poles.
Citizen scientists can also join in on the fun. The image above was processed from Juno raw data by a citizen scientist. If you want to try your hand at it, the BBC has a pretty detailed how-to guide here Sky at Night Magazine, You can find Juno’s raw images here.
And citizen scientists in Zooniverse’s Jovian Vortex Hunter can also help identify and classify cyclonic storms on Jupiter. It is a tool that will directly help planetary scientists to better understand this wild world.
If you like the image above, you can download it in higher resolution from the JPL NASA website.