Skip to main content

NASA releases first images of Jupiter’s bizarre geometric storms

Jupiter is a big, complex, chaotic planet. It has long been known as the most dominant feature in our sun’s orbit, but it wasn’t until last May that the planet’s internal features began to be revealed. During a few close passes, NASA’s $1.1 billion Juno spacecraft collected data on the gas giant that revealed cyclones the size of Earth and a surprisingly strong magnetic field.

Now, data collected by Juno have uncovered more never-before-seen features on its north and south poles. In a study published this week in the journal Nature, a team of scientists report bizarre geometric storms surrounding a single massive cyclone on each of the planet’s poles. The storms measure seven thousands miles across and reach wind speeds nearing 220 miles per hour, which would classify them as Category 5 hurricane here on Earth.

Related Videos

On July 4, 2016, Juno rendezvoused with Jupiter to perform a series of close passes that would bring the spacecraft just a couple thousands miles above the gas giant’s top cloud layer. Using its sophisticated instruments, Juno began to peer beneath the planet’s clouds for the first time, snapping photos and measuring Jupiter’s infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, gravity, and magnetic features.

Among the many mysteries Juno scientists sought to uncover were Jupiter’s poles, previously hidden from our telescopes due to the planet’s nonexistent tilt. When Juno finally beamed back images of the north pole, scientists were shocked to find eight cyclones circling a single storm in the middle. Later, the south pole presented a similar arrangement with five outer storms.

Alberto Adriani, a co-investigator for Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) and lead author of the paper, explained that the storms are likely the result of Jupiter’s heat and rotation speed.

“The high rotation of the planet — about 10 hours for a complete turn around its axis — and the heat coming from the lower levels of the atmosphere certainly have a great impact to the formation of the cyclonic pattern we have observed over the Jupiter’s poles,” he told Digital Trends.

As with many space discoveries, it’s not always clear how or why the findings are relevant to us on Earth. Sure, Jupiter’s strange storms are cool, but why does it matter?

“Space research has a triple value,” Adriani said. There’s the knowledge itself, the search for which “pushes our minds to try to understand what we don’t know.” Then there are the technological advances that enable such a discovery in the first place, some of which can be used to study things like space weather, which have an immediate impact on Earth.

“Last but not least, economically speaking every euro [or dollar] invested in research comes back to the society,” Adriani, and that return on investment is often multiplied by many factors.

Editors' Recommendations

NASA launches weather satellite and inflatable heat shield test
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)-2 civilian polar-orbiting weather satellite for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA's Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) tech demo lifts off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 1:49 a.m. PST (4:49 a.m. EST) Nov. 10, 2022.

This week NASA launched a new weather satellite, JPSS-2, into polar orbit around the Earth. But this launch was a special one, as it also included a test of a new inflatable heat shield called LOFTID.

The launch, using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, took place from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California early in the morning of this Thursday, November 10.

Read more
NASA sticks with Artemis I launch despite minor damage from Hurricane Nicole
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop the mobile launcher at Launch Pad 39B, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Teams began walkdowns and inspections at the pad to assess the status of the rocket and spacecraft after the passage of Hurricane Nicole.

NASA has announced that the Space Launch System rocket is still set to be launched for the Artemis I mission this week, despite suffering "very minor damage" during Hurricane Nicole.

The rocket was out on the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida when the hurricane struck last week, as rolling it back inside its building was deemed to be too risky. During a previous launch attempt which was stymied by Hurricane Ian, the rocket was returned to its building, but this time it was decided it would be safer left where it was.

Read more
NASA inspects SLS moon rocket following Hurricane Nicole
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B, Monday, April 4, 2022.

As the authorities in Florida begin to assess the wider damage wrought by Hurricane Nicole on Thursday, a team at the Kennedy Space Center is currently performing detailed inspections of NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) moon rocket.

The 98-meter-tall SLS rocket, with the Orion spacecraft at its tip, remained on the launchpad as the extreme weather passed through, exposing the vehicle to gusts of up to 82 mph. The rocket arrived on the launchpad last weekend ahead of its maiden flight, which could take place on Wednesday.

Read more