Breathtaking new photos show Jupiter’s hypnotic swirling storms, and how real is it?

Ever since the Juno space probe gave us our first incredible views of Jupiter’s poles, the regions have fascinated and mesmerized us.

In one of the last images Juno sent back from the North Pole, you can see why: a mixture of storm swirls, connected and interconnected, appearing serene from afar, but raging with an intensity we can only imagine. here on Earth.

The image was obtained during Juno’s 43rd close flyby of the giant planet in our solar system on July 5, when the spacecraft soared at a relatively close distance of 25,100 kilometers (15,600 miles) above the peaks polar clouds. Due to its axial orientation, Jupiter’s poles are not visible to us most of the time, so planetary scientists rely on data from Juno to conduct studies of the atmospheric dynamics at play in these mysterious and tumultuous regions.

The image above looks relatively serene; zoom in on Jupiter’s cloud tops, however, and you begin to get a sense of the mind-boggling scale and ferocity of the planet’s weather, as seen in this earlier image processed by the NASA engineer Kevin Gill, embedded below.

A close up of Jupiter. (Kevin Gill/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

“These powerful storms can measure more than 50 kilometers in height and hundreds of kilometers in diameter,” a JPL NASA spokesperson wrote on the JPL website.

“Understanding how they form is critical to understanding Jupiter’s atmosphere, as well as the fluid dynamics and cloud chemistry that create the planet’s other atmospheric features. Scientists are particularly interested in the different shapes , sizes and colors of the vortices.”

Each of Jupiter’s poles has its own idiosyncratic storm pattern. The south pole has – or rather, had – six cyclones, each comparable in size to the continental United States, one in the center, and five storms arranged around it in a near-perfect pentagon, all spinning clockwise. a watch.

Between Juno flybys, scientists were able to observe the appearance of a seventh storm, thus the pentagon became a hexagon. (This differs from Saturn’s north polar hexagon, which is a hexagon-shaped storm.)

jupiter thunderstorms at north pole bodyJupiter’s north polar storms. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS; image processing by Brian Swift)

The North Pole is even stranger: there, scientists have identified nine storms, eight arranged around one in the center, all rotating counterclockwise. And, in the high latitude regions around these two central polar chains of storms, other vortices are raging.

Using data from Juno, scientists have identified a mechanism by which these storms stay apart instead of merging into one mega-storm, as we see at Saturn’s poles. Tracking changes between Juno flybys is one of the most important tools planetary scientists have to understand the wild weather at Jupiter, especially its poles.

Citizen scientists can also join in the fun. The image above was processed from raw Juno data by a citizen scientist. If you want to try your hand at that, there’s a pretty detailed how-to guide here in BBC’s Sky at Night Magazine. You can find the raw Juno images here.

And citizen scientists can also help identify and classify cyclonic storms on Jupiter at Zooniverse’s Jovian Vortex Hunter. It is a tool that will directly help planetary scientists better understand this wild world.

If you like the image above, you can download it in high resolution from the JPL NASA website.

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