Cyclones on Jupiter explained through ocean physics

Researchers have said that the rich turbulence at Jupiter’s poles and the physical forces that drive the large cyclones on the planet can be explained through ocean physics.

Thanks to the Juno spacecraft, the images of Jupiter have given oceanographers the raw materials for a new study published today in Nature Physics wherein they have likened cyclones at Jupiter’s pole to ocean vortices. Using an array of these images and principles used in geophysical fluid dynamics, researchers provided evidence for a longtime hypothesis that moist convection – when hotter, less dense air rises – drives these cyclones.

Researchers analyzed an array of infrared images capturing Jupiter’s north polar region, and in particular the polar vortex cluster. From the images, the researchers could calculate wind speed and direction by tracking the movement of the clouds between images. Next, the team interpreted infrared images in terms of cloud thickness. Hot regions correspond to thin clouds, where it is possible to see deeper into Jupiter’s atmosphere. Cold regions represent thick cloud cover, blanketing Jupiter’s atmosphere.

These findings gave the researchers clues on the energy of the system. Since Jovian clouds are formed when hotter, less dense air rises, the researchers found that the rapidly rising air within clouds acts as an energy source that feeds larger scales up to the large circumpolar and polar cyclones.

Juno first arrived at the Jovian system in 2016, providing scientists with the first look at these large polar cyclones, which have a radius of about 1,000 kilometers or 620 miles. There are eight of these cyclones occurring at Jupiter’s north pole, and five at its south pole. These storms have been present since that first view five years ago. Researchers are unsure how they originated or for how long they have been circulating, but they now know that moist convection is what sustains them. Researchers first hypothesized this energy transfer after observing lightning in storms on Jupiter.

Juno will continue orbiting Jupiter until 2025, providing researchers and the public alike with novel images of the planet and its extensive lunar system.

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