New NASA data reveals many of Jupiter's hidden secrets

An illustration depicting the U.S. space agency's Juno spacecraft in orbit above Jupiter's Great Red Spot. NASA  JPL-Caltech  Handout via REUTERS

Gas giant Jupiter is the largest known planet in our solar system. This breakthrough glimpse of the giant gas planet's interior shows there is more to Jupiter beyond its spectacular bands of clouds. Jupiter's tempestuous, gassy atmosphere stretches some 3,000 kilometres deep and comprises a hundredth of the planet's mass, studies based on observations by Nasa's Juno spacecraft revealed yesterday. These new findings are being published in a series in the journal Nature. The most famous feature of Jupiter is the Great Red Spot, but also noteworthy are the bands of light and dark clouds that make up what we can see of the planet from afar. Among the measurements Juno beams back to Earth are those of the planet's gravity field.

According to NASA, the recent revelations will improve the understanding of Jupiter's interior structure, core mass and eventually, the origin of Jupiter.

Instead, they found an octagon-shaped grouping over the north pole, with eight cyclones surrounding one in the middle, and a pentagon-shaped batch over the south pole.

New data collected by NASA's Juno probe is giving scientists a unique look into the inner workings of Jupiter.

"The more profound the planes, the more mass they contain, prompting a more grounded flag communicated in the gravity field". Thus, the magnitude of the asymmetry in gravity determines how deep the jet streams extend. How far down do these wind bands go, and what connection do they have to the planet's dense interior of hydrogen and helium?

"Galileo saw the stripes on Jupiter over 400 years prior", Yohai Kaspi, Juno co-examiner from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, and lead creator of a Nature paper on Jupiter's profound climate layer, was cited as saying on NASA's site.

The scientists reported today there's a constellation of nine cyclones over Jupiter's north pole and six over the south pole. "The remarkable thing about this", says Dr. Galanti, "is that we were able to directly measure the signature of the flows themselves". While that may not sound like much, Earth's atmosphere, by comparison, is less than one millionth the mass of the planet.

While these storms might look like the same cyclone with branched arms, they are actually separate storms that are densely packed.

"They have very violent winds, reaching, in some cases, speeds as great as 220 miles per hour (350 kph). There is nothing else like it that we know of in the solar system". Since then it's been orbiting the planet, taking pictures and measuring the planet's profile in infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, gravity and magnetism-and answering questions scientists have had about Jupiter for decades.

"We can not say how many mysteries are left to uncover", they wrote in an email. They also suggest the electrical conductivity of a gas-giant planet's atmosphere is the crucial property that sets the limits for such a world's dynamic winds, as ionized gases at high pressures drag against its magnetic field.

This computer-generated image shows the structure of the cyclonic pattern observed over Jupiters south pole.

Juno is now scheduled to remain in orbit around Jupiter until July 2018, but NASA is looking at ways to extend the mission. That's the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper, or JIRAM, which studies the polar atmosphere, trying to learn more about the mysterious "hot spots" that mark the planet.