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Tech & Science NASA Just Watched a Mass of Cyclones on Jupiter Evolve Into a Mesmerising Hexagon

13:05  13 december  2019
13:05  13 december  2019 Source:   sciencealert.com

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Jupiter is a turbulent place. Its colossal red cyclone is, of course, the planet's most famous storm. But when NASA 's Juno probe arrived in 2016, it found "Data from Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument indicate we went from a pentagon of cyclones surrounding one at the centre to a

Juno, a NASA spacecraft that has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, has Its primary mission is to understand how Jupiter formed and evolved over time. Their models showed how this new storm may have joined the circle of cyclones surrounding the central one without disrupting the arrangement.

a close up of a star© NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

Jupiter is a turbulent place. Its colossal red cyclone is, of course, the planet's most famous storm. But when NASA's Juno probe arrived in 2016, it found something even more wildly tempestuous - the gas giant's polar regions.

At the north pole, nine storms raged; a large central one bang on the pole, and eight smaller ones arrayed around it. At the south pole, there was a similar, but slightly different arrangement with six storms, five arrayed in an almost perfect pentagon around a central cyclone. These cyclones are all similarly sized - almost as wide as the United States.

Nasa probe aims to discover secrets of the Sun

  Nasa probe aims to discover secrets of the Sun ANU Cosmologist Dr Brad Tucker says a recent Nasa Solar probe has been sent “pretty much, closer than anything has gone before” to the outer edge of the Sun’s atmosphere. Nasa's Parker Solar Probe has been sent on a mission to capture imagery of the constant outflow of material and solar winds from the Sun. Dr Tucker said the mission aims to try and “figure out why or where” does “solar wind” come from. Dr Tucker said another aim of this mission is “to have a better understanding of our star, the Sun”. However, as Dr Tucker said, it is “challenging to observe the Sun, up close”.

Jupiter is thought to be the first planet to have formed by siphoning the elements left over from the formation of the Sun as our star coalesced from an amorphous nebula into the fiery ball of gases we see today. But evidence is mounting that Jupiter has a core, possibly 10 times Earth’s mass .

The world of Jupiter is coming into clearer focus for scientists, as new data from NASA ’s Juno spacecraft reveals how the planet’s fluids churn and mingle. Winds run deep. Juno has been studying Jupiter ’s gravitational field, or how far the planet’s gravitational influence extends out into space .

(And at each pole, all cyclones are spinning in the same direction - counterclockwise in the north, and clockwise in the south. That's pretty neat.)

Not much was known about these storms. Were they permanent or semi-permanent features, like the Great Red Spot, or would they soon be wiped away? We know now, after several years of Juno flybys, that the storms are pretty persistent.

a close up of a colorful background© NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

But, on the most recent flyby - the 22nd of the Juno probe's data-collecting missions, when it swoops in just 3,500 kilometres (2,175 miles) above Jupiter's cloud tops - it imaged something new with its optical and infrared instruments.

The storms at the south pole had formed not a pentagon, but a hexagon. There was a newcomer.

Nasa probe aims to discover secrets of the Sun

  Nasa probe aims to discover secrets of the Sun ANU Cosmologist Dr Brad Tucker says a recent Nasa Solar probe has been sent “pretty much, closer than anything has gone before” to the outer edge of the Sun’s atmosphere. Nasa's Parker Solar Probe has been sent on a mission to capture imagery of the constant outflow of material and solar winds from the Sun. Dr Tucker said the mission aims to try and “figure out why or where” does “solar wind” come from. Dr Tucker said another aim of this mission is “to have a better understanding of our star, the Sun”. However, as Dr Tucker said, it is “challenging to observe the Sun, up close”.

This means that Jupiter ’s signature, crisscrossing bands don’t just exist on the surface of the Previously, scientists had seen a single, massive, hexagon -shaped storm brewing at one of Saturn’s But Jupiter ’s polar storms have turned out to be completely different. There are multiple cyclones

Saturn's hexagon is a persisting hexagonal cloud pattern around the north pole of the planet Saturn, located at about 78°N. The sides of the hexagon are about 14,500 km (9,000 mi) long

"Data from Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument indicate we went from a pentagon of cyclones surrounding one at the centre to a hexagonal arrangement," said astrophysicist Alessandro Mura of the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy in a NASA announcement.

"This new addition is smaller in stature than its six more established cyclonic brothers: It's about the size of Texas. Maybe JIRAM data from future flybys will show the cyclone growing to the same size as its neighbours."

a close up of an animal© NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

It seems like it's settling in nicely. Although these weird configurations of storms appear nowhere else in the Solar System (Saturn has its own polar storm weirdness, with one giant, hexagonal storm at its north pole, and a polar vortex at the south), studying them can help us to better understand the atmospheric dynamics of gas giants.

"These cyclones are new weather phenomena that have not been seen or predicted before," said planetary scientist Cheng Li of the University of California, Berkeley.

"Nature is revealing new physics regarding fluid motions and how giant planet atmospheres work. We are beginning to grasp it through observations and computer simulations.

"Future Juno flybys will help us further refine our understanding by revealing how the cyclones evolve over time."

Incidentally, does anyone else have a weird craving for pizza…?

Why the definition of a planet is always changing .
As an astronomer, the question I hear the most is why isn’t Pluto a planet anymore? More than 10 years ago, astronomers famously voted to change Pluto’s classification. But the question still comes up. When I am asked directly if I think Pluto is a planet, I tell everyone my answer is no. It all goes back to the origin of the word “planet.” It comes from the Greek phrase for “wandering stars.” Back in ancient times before the telescope was invented, the mathematician and astronomer Claudius Ptolemy called stars “fixed stars” to distinguish them from the seven wanderers that move across the sky in a very specific way.

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