Incredible Cyclones on Jupiter are explained by ocean physics.


Incredible Cyclones on Jupiter are explained by ocean physics.

Scientists can study the forces that drive polar cyclones using satellite images.

The Juno spacecraft, a NASA-funded satellite that sends images from our solar system’s largest planet back to Earth, is circling Jupiter and its 79 moons.

These images provided the foundation for a new study published in Nature Physics today (January 10, 2022) that describes the rich turbulence at Jupiter’s poles and the physical forces that drive the large cyclones.

Lia Siegelman, a physical oceanographer and postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, was inspired to pursue the study after noticing similarities between the cyclones at Jupiter’s pole and the ocean vortices she studied during her PhD.

Siegelman and colleagues used a variety of these images and geophysical fluid dynamics principles to support a long-held theory that these cyclones are driven by moist convection, which occurs when hotter, less dense air rises.

“When I saw the richness of the turbulence around the Jovian cyclones, with all the filaments and smaller eddies, it reminded me of the turbulence around eddies in the ocean,” Siegelman said.

“High-resolution satellite images of plankton blooms, for example, show this.”

Understanding Jupiter’s energy system, which is much larger than Earth’s, according to Siegelman, could help us better understand the physical mechanisms at work on our own planet by highlighting some energy routes that may also exist on Earth.

“It’s fascinating to be able to study a planet so far away and find physics that apply,” she said.

“Do these processes also apply to our own blue dot?” says the narrator.

Previous satellites orbited Jupiter’s equatorial region, providing views of the planet’s famous Red Spot. Juno is the first spacecraft to capture images of Jupiter’s poles.

Juno has two camera systems, one for visible light images and the other for heat signatures using the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), an Italian Space Agency-supported instrument on the Juno spacecraft.

Siegelman and colleagues looked at a number of infrared images of Jupiter’s north polar region, especially the polar vortex cluster.

By following the movement of the clouds between images, the researchers were able to calculate wind speed and direction.

The team then used infrared images to interpret them in terms of…

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