Juno mission paints dramatic picture of the turbulence within the solar systems largest planet
Jupiters interior has been revealed in unprecedented detail in observations by Nasas Juno spacecraft that show it to be as strange and turbulent as the planets surface.
Despite extensive studies of Jupiters surface, including its distinctive dark and light bands and great red spot, little had previously been known about what lies at the interior of the solar systems largest planet.
The new findings, based on high-precision gravitational measurements, show that Jupiters iconic striped bands, caused by immensely powerful winds, extend to a depth of about 3,000km below the surface. The mission has also produced a partial answer to the question of whether the planet has a core, showing that the inner 96% of the planet rotates as a solid body, even though technically it is composed of an extraordinarily dense mixture of hydrogen and helium gas.
The findings are published in four separate papers in the journal Nature, describing the planets gravitational field (surprisingly asymmetrical), atmospheric flows, interior composition and polar cyclones.
Jonathan Fortney, an astronomer at the University of California Santa Cruz who wrote an analysis of the findings, said: The big deal is that this tells us how the interior of Jupiter works. People have been fighting about this since before I was born.
A crucial question was whether the bands on Jupiter, caused by air currents that are five times as strong as the most powerful hurricanes on Earth, were a weather phenomenon comparable to the Earths jet streams or part of a deep-seated convection system. Junos latest observations point to the latter, showing the jets continued to around 3,000km beneath the surface deep enough to cause ripples and asymmetries in the planets gravitational field that were perceptible to detectors on the spacecraft.