We all know about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the extreme, Earth-sized storm that’s been swirling on the huge planet for decades.
But what about the world’s other, less well known tempests?
A series of studies published in the journal Nature this week reveal new discoveries about the way that Jupiter’s atmosphere functions and the storms that swirl within it. In particular, one of the studies details the nature of the cyclones spinning in the clouds of Jupiter’s north and south poles.
In the planet’s north pole, one large cyclone is surrounded by eight other polar cyclones, and a large south polar cyclone is encircled by five cyclones, according to the new study produced using data from NASA’s Jupiter-exploring Juno probe.
“Prior to Juno we did not know what the weather was like near Jupiter’s poles. Now, we have been able to observe the polar weather up-close every two months,” Alberto Adriani, Juno co-investigator, and lead author of the cyclone study, said in a statement.
“Each one of the northern cyclones is almost as wide as the distance between Naples, Italy and New York City — and the southern ones are even larger than that. They have very violent winds, reaching, in some cases, speeds as great as 220 mph (350 kph). Finally, and perhaps most remarkably, they are very close together and enduring. There is nothing else like it that we know of in the solar system.”
That’s for sure.
Jupiter’s storms are complex beasts that defy explanation at this point.
The dynamics of the storms in the south and north poles of the world are mysterious, and scientists aren’t sure how they formed or how they have persisted.
Even Saturn’s storms aren’t a good proxy for the dynamics at play on Jupiter. Saturn actually has one hexagon-shaped storm at each pole, so why does Jupiter have more than one and why don’t they merge together?
It’s also odd that the cyclones at the north and south pole on Jupiter aren’t the same.
“The Juno observations so far provide concrete evidence that the Jovian poles display multitudes of structure at its poles, but that structure is not identical at both poles, even though the stability and structures have remained stable over 11-months,” planetary scientist Padma Yanamandra-Fisher, who wasn’t an author on the new study, said via email.
“How? Why? These are questions that will engage Jovian researchers for years to come.”
In general, storms on Jupiter are pretty badass.
A storm called the North North Temperate Little Red Spot 1 is 3,700 miles across. Yes, a storm that’s over 3,000 miles across — which is roughly the distance from California to New York — is considered “little” on Jupiter.
The huge planet’s storms can also swirl for years and years because Jupiter, unlike Earth, doesn’t have any continents that would break up airflow feeding these tempests.