New images of Jupiter reveal clusters of giant cyclones unlike anything else in our solar system

Jupiter is still revealing its secrets to scientists. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill
  • New images from NASA’s Juno probe show clusters of cyclones on the planet’s poles.
  • NASA says these weather systems extend far deeper than previously realised.
  • The tightly packed cyclones haven’t merged into one system like they did on Saturn, and scientists aren’t sure why.
  • Scientists also discovered that Jupiter’s gaseous core rotates like a solid body.

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

Fresh images reveal clusters of giant cyclones surrounding Jupiter’s poles that seem to last far longer and extend far deeper than anything else in the solar system, according to NASA.

The images Juno captured of these cyclones can help scientists understand the gas giant’s interior structure, core, and origins.

Jupiter north pole
Densely packed cyclonic clusters on Jupiter’s north pole, as captured by NASA’s Juno probe. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

“These astonishing science results are yet another example of Jupiter’s curve balls and a testimony to the value of exploring the unknown from a new perspective with next-generation instruments,” Scott Bolton, one of the principal scientists behind the Juno project, said in a release.

Composite images sent back by Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper show these polar cyclones in stunning detail via infrared light.

The cyclonic winds Juno discovered extend deeper into the planet than any similar weather pattern on Earth – as far as 1,900 miles, or 3,000 kilometers, into Jupiter, constituting about 1% of its mass.

For comparison, Earth’s atmosphere is less than one-millionth of its mass, according to Yohai Kaspi, an Israeli scientist who wrote a recent paper about Jupiter’s weather published in Nature.

At Jupiter’s north and south poles, the cyclones are so densely packed that they actually touch one another. But according to NASA, for reasons scientist cannot yet explain, the tightly clustered cyclones remain distinct.

Another paper in Nature based on Juno’s data suggests that beneath this weather layer, the planet’s core, made up of helium and hydrogen, rotates as a practically rigid body – a phenomenon that was also previously unknown to scientists.

“This is really an amazing result, and future measurements by Juno will help us understand how the transition works between the weather layer and the rigid body below,” Tristan Guillot, a French scientist who helped write that paper, said in a statement. “Juno’s discovery has implications for other worlds in our solar system and beyond.”

This computer-generated image shows the structure of the cyclonic pattern observed over Jupiter’s south pole. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

Saturn, Jupiter’s gaseous neighbour, has only single cyclonic systems at each pole.

“We are beginning to realise that not all gas giants are created equal,” said Alberto Adriani, a scientist on the Juno project.

The $US1 billion Juno mission, which NASA launched in 2011, is expected to continue to reveal more of Jupiter’s secrets. Juno swings around the planet on an elliptical orbit about once every 53.5 days. The spacecraft made its 11th close pass, or perijove, on February 7.

“Juno is only about one-third the way through its primary mission, and already we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter,” Bolton said.