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Discoveries From Juno: Massive Cyclones Spotted Beneath Jupiter's Surface

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The Juno probe uncovered massive cyclones swirling near Jupiter's north and south poles. This breakthrough glimpse of the giant gas planet's interior shows there is more to Jupiter beyond its spectacular bands of clouds.

NASA's Juno mission has come up with significant information about the planet. Four international research teams documented their observations and discoveries about Jupiter in a series of studies. Four new papers detailing Jupiter's wonders are now published in the Nature International Journal of Science.

Geometric Storms

Among the scientific mysteries uncovered are bizarre geometric constellations of cyclones on both of Jupiter's poles. At the south pole, five massive storms are arranged in a pentagon-like shape around a storm. The north pole also featured the same pattern with eight storms swirling around each other.

Each cyclone spans thousands of miles each with wind speeds reaching 220 mph, exceeding the strength of a Category-5 hurricane. All cyclones lasted for seven months.

The storm formations are unlike anything already seen in the universe.

"They are extraordinarily stable arrangements of such chaotic elements," says Morgan O'Neill, a University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar and a coauthor on paper "Clusters of cyclones encircling Jupiter's poles."

"We'd never seen anything like it," O'Neill said.

What's Beneath Jupiter's Zones And Belts?

Before the Juno probe, there was no way to determine what lies beneath Jupiter's famous longitudinal bands.

The light bands called zones and the darker bands called belts are clouds of high-speed winds flowing in opposite directions. These bands rotate at speeds that differ by up to 100 meters per second.

Two other papers detailed what lies beneath them.

To study what's beneath the surface of massive clouds, the scientists measured Jupiter's gravitational field. It revealed the asymmetrical flow in the north and south hemispheres, a signature of the planet's atmospheric and interior flows.

Likewise, observations of the atmospheric motions concluded that the planet's crisscrossing jet streams of winds extend some 3,000 kilometers (1,865 miles) deep, way much deeper than scientists expected. These atmospheric winds last longer than similar atmospheric processes found on Earth. This jet stream contains an estimate of 1 percent of the planet's entire mass.

"The result is a surprise because this indicates that the atmosphere of Jupiter is massive and extends much deeper than we previously expected," says Yohai Kaspi of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences of Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

These initial findings about Jupiter's jet streams and gravity field are basis for the deeper understanding of the planet's core and could answer other questions on deep planetary dynamics.

The final paper looked further deep into Jupiter's core. Based on Juno's measurements, the scientists found out that hydrogen and helium gases make up the planet's core and beneath the layer of atmosphere, Jupiter rotates as a solid mass of ball.

Juno Probe

NASA launched the Juno mission on Aug. 5, 2011 to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter, look for solid planetary core, map magnetic field, measure water and ammonia in deep atmosphere, and observe auroras.

On July 4, 2016, the Juno spacecraft finally reached the planet's orbit. On Feb. 7, Juno completed its 10th science orbit of Jupiter.

"Juno is only about one third the way through its primary mission, and already we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter," says Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio.

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