Jupiter, “a complex, gigantic and turbulent world”

The Juno spacecraft obtained striking images of the planet’s poles, demonstrating that they are covered with dozens of densely packed storms, possibly dropping hail or snow.

/ AFP

A NASA unmanned spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter has detected huge hurricanes at the poles, revealing surprising details about the largest planet in the solar system, researchers reported.

A NASA statement described the planet as “a complex, gigantic and turbulent world” that is very different from what scientists thought.

Two articles in the journal Science and 44 in Geophysical Research Letters describe a treasure trove of discoveries since Juno began orbiting Jupiter last July.

“We knew that Jupiter would throw us some surprises,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “There’s so much going on that we did not expect to take a step back and rethink Jupiter as something completely new.”

A look at the planet’s poles has shown that they are covered with dozens of densely clustered storms, possibly dropping hail or snow.

The images of the poles, never before seen, “show the oval-shaped bright masses that are significantly different what has been observed at the poles of Saturn,” one of the studies in the journal Science.

These ovals are huge storms, some of which measure up to 1,400 kilometers in diameter.

More studies are now needed to better understand the nature of Jupiter’s storms, and why the planet acts this way.

The Juno spacecraft took off in 2011 and made its first tour around Jupiter on August 27, 2016. The mission is scheduled to end in February 2018, when it will self-destruct by diving into the planet’s atmosphere.

The project, with an investment of 1,100 million dollars, aims to look under the clouds of Jupiter for the first time to know more about the planet’s atmosphere and how much water it contains.

On July 11, “we will fly directly over one of the most emblematic features of the entire Solar System: the Great Red Spot of Jupiter,” Bolton announced. “If anyone is going to get to the bottom of what is happening below those gigantic swirling crimson clouds, it is Juno and his penetrating scientific instruments.”