Skip to main content

Juno spots a new cyclone joining the six storms on the south pole of Jupiter

Six cyclones can be seen at Jupiter’s south pole in this infrared image taken on Feb. 2, 2017, during the 3rd science pass of NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument measures heat radiated from the planet at an infrared wavelength of around 5 microns. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

The atmosphere of Jupiter is tempestuous and full of dramatic storms and cloud formations, and last year NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew close enough to the planet to observe bizarre geometric storms at its poles. Now, NASA researchers have observed a new cyclone on Jupiter’s southern pole, with six windstorms swirling in a hexagonal pattern around a massive central storm.

“Data from Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper [JIRAM] instrument indicates we went from a pentagon of cyclones surrounding one at the center to a hexagonal arrangement,” Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, said in a statement. “This new addition is smaller in stature than its six more established cyclonic brothers: It’s about the size of Texas. Maybe JIRAM data from future flybys will show the cyclone growing to the same size as its neighbors.”

A new, smaller cyclone can be seen at the lower right of this infrared image of Jupiter’s south pole taken on Nov. 4, 2019, during the 23rd science pass of the planet by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

It was only possible to collect this data because of a risky maneuver pulled by the Juno craft in October when it had to outrace the sun’s shadow to maintain its solar power.

“The combination of creativity and analytical thinking has once again paid off big time for NASA,” Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in the same statement. “We realized that the orbit was going to carry Juno into Jupiter’s shadow, which could have grave consequences because we’re solar powered. No sunlight means no power, so there was a real risk we might freeze to death. While the team was trying to figure out how to conserve energy and keep our core heated, the engineers came up with a completely new way out of the problem: Jump Jupiter’s shadow. It was nothing less than a navigation stroke of genius. Lo and behold, first thing out of the gate on the other side, we make another fundamental discovery.”

By observing the atmosphere of Jupiter, the researchers are learning about not only the planet but also other planetary weather systems on gas giants like Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

“These cyclones are new weather phenomena that have not been seen or predicted before,” Cheng Li, a Juno scientist from the University of California, Berkeley, added in the statement. “Nature is revealing new physics regarding fluid motions and how giant planet atmospheres work. We are beginning to grasp it through observations and computer simulations. Future Juno flybys will help us further refine our understanding by revealing how the cyclones evolve over time.”

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Juno will swing by Ganymede, visiting the moon for the first time in 20 years
Left to right: The mosaic and geologic maps of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede were assembled incorporating the best available imagery from NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft and NASA’s Galileo spacecraft.

Left to right: The mosaic and geologic maps of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede were assembled incorporating the best available imagery from NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft and NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. USGS Astrogeology Science Center/Wheaton/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jupiter's satellite Ganymede is an intriguing place: It is the largest moon in the solar system, being bigger than Mercury, and unusually for a moon it has its own atmosphere and magnetic field. Tomorrow, June 7, the Jupiter exploration probe Juno will perform a flyby of the moon, providing the closest encounter with it in decades.

Read more
Jupiter’s second spot is growing and changing and looking real weird
jupiter clydes spot changing jpegpia23609 1

Jupiter's most famous feature is its Great Red Spot, the largest storm in the solar system. But this spot was recently discovered to have a smaller sibling, created by a plume of cloud high in the atmosphere. Now, a new image of this second spot shows it's getting stranger.

The spot was identified last year by an amateur astronomer called Clyde Foster and has been unofficially named "Clyde's Spot" in his honor. Days after the discovery, the Juno spacecraft passed over the region and was able to capture an image of the new baby spot. It is thought to be a cloud of material that reaches up through the upper layers of the atmosphere.

Read more
NASA will build its lunar base camp on the moon’s south pole
spacex blue origin moon lander nasa artemis mission

Lunar South Pole VR

When NASA sends astronauts to the moon for its Artemis program, it isn't just planning to send them for brief visits. The plan is to set up a long-term moon base, where astronauts could stay for weeks or months at a time. The agency has been considering locations for this base and has narrowed down the options to focus on the moon's south pole.

Read more