NASA’s Juno spacecraft provided a captivating glimpse into Jupiter’s intricate features during its 54th close flyby on September 7. The image, crafted from raw data captured by the JunoCam instrument, underwent processing to enhance details in cloud formations and colors. This visual revelation, coupled with gravity data gathered by Juno, unveiled a previously debated aspect of Jupiter’s internal structure.
The findings, recently published in the journal Nature Astronomy, suggest that the gas giant’s atmospheric winds penetrate the planet in a cylindrical fashion, parallel to its spin axis. Juno, in orbit around Jupiter since 2016, has been a witness to the tumultuous dynamics of the planet’s atmosphere. Employing radio science, the spacecraft’s signals are tracked by NASA’s Deep Space Network, enabling scientists to measure minuscule changes in velocity, revealing insights into Jupiter’s gravity field and atmospheric composition.
Through meticulous calculations and leveraging high-precision Juno data, researchers have achieved a four-fold increase in resolution compared to previous models, shedding light on the depth and nature of Jupiter’s winds and contributing to our understanding of this awe-inspiring gas giant.
This illustration unveils significant findings about Jupiter’s atmospheric winds, indicating they penetrate the planet cylindrically and align with its spin axis. NASA’s Juno mission, utilizing a novel constraining technique for sparse data sets, achieved unprecedented insights into the gas giant’s internal structure.
The gravity measurements confirmed a two-decade-old model, revealing that the dominant east-west zonal flows extend inward in a cylindrical fashion, challenging previous assumptions of a spherical distribution. The resolution provided by Juno’s gravity data, matching calculations precisely, settles a debate on Jupiter’s deep atmospheric winds that has persisted since the 1970s.
The success of this approach not only advances our understanding of Jupiter but also holds promise for studying other planetary atmospheres. Juno, now in an extended mission, continues to explore Jupiter’s mysteries, including close flybys of its moons, Ganymede, Europa, and Io, contributing to a transformative understanding of giant planets within and beyond our solar system.