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Curated by RSF Research Staff

Jupiter’s winds have deep roots

The depth of the alternating east-west bands of Jupiter’s enigmatic atmosphere has long been a mystery. Now, with the results of NASAs Juno probe the extent of these winds has been measured for the first time!

The winds of the gaseous planets have similar dynamics to the Earth’s atmosphere and it was thus assumed by some that the winds were confined to a thin outer layer. However, another school of thought believed the winds were much deeper and the dynamic stemmed from a rotational mechanism.

The giant planets have rapid rotation rates, with Jupiter being the fastest and are thus significantly affected by flattening due to centrifugal forces. This deviation from spherical symmetry can be measured utilizing the technique of gravimetry – which is the measurement of gravitational acceleration. The idea of using gravimetry for determining the interior structure of the gas giants has been discussed since the 70’s. However, it only became a possibility in 2016 when the Juno spacecraft was launched into a polar orbit around Jupiter. Since then it has been making measurements of the gravitational moments and has finally revealed that the winds extend to a depth of 3000 km, which is approximately 4% of the planet’s mean radius.

This new data on the interior structure has huge implications for our understanding on the fundamental and atmospheric dynamics of the gas giants and planetary bodies in general.


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