Astronomers have finally managed to get a good look at Jupiter’s poles to find that the gaseous giant is indeed more strange than believed with its poles packing strange geometric arrays of storms.
This was made possible through NASA’s Juno spacecraft that is currently orbiting the massive planet. The geometric arrays of storms is baffling as each of these storms is arrayed around one cyclone over the north and south poles–unlike any storm formation seen in the universe. At the north pole are eight storms surrounding one storm at the center while at the south pole there are five surrounding a massive storm.
The observations and the related study are published in journal Nature as part of a set of four papers dedicated to new observations from the Juno spacecraft. Ever since reaching Jupiter on July 4, Juno has been taking pictures and measuring the planet’s profile in infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, gravity and magnetism–and answering questions scientists have had about Jupiter for decades.
One of these was the question of what lay at its elusive poles. When scientists got the first images, they were stunned. At the north pole, eight storms surrounded one storm at the center. At the south pole, it was the same arrangement, only with five storms. But the numbers stayed oddly constant; the storms weren’t drifting and merging, as our current understanding of the science suggested they should.
These storms though chaotic and violent are extraordinarily stable and astronomers haven’t seen anything like it before.
The geometry is similar to strange physical phenomena only observed under special conditions in the laboratory. In the 1990s, scientists observed a similar behavior as they used electrons to simulate a frictionless, turbulent 2-D fluid as it cools. Instead of merging, which tends to happen in such 2-D flows, small vortices would clump together and form equally spaced arrays, or “vortex crystals,” around a center.
It’s not yet clear whether the same physics underlies both these behaviors, but it is tantalizing.