Juno data offers new insights into Jupiter's Great Red Spot

"Juno found that the Great Red Spot's roots go 50 to 100 times deeper than Earth's oceans and are warmer at the base than they are at the top," said Juno co-investigator Andy Ingersoll.
By Brooks Hays  |  Dec. 12, 2017 at 9:33 AM
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Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Fresh analysis of data collected by NASA's Juno probe suggests Jupiter's Great Red Spot extends beneath the gas giant's clouds.

The findings -- presented Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans -- suggest the famous Jovian storm has roots that penetrate some 200 miles into Jupiter's atmosphere.

The revelation was made possible by Juno's Microwave Radiometer.

"Juno's Microwave Radiometer has the unique capability to peer deep below Jupiter's clouds," Michael Janssen, Juno co-investigator from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release. "It is proving to be an excellent instrument to help us get to the bottom of what makes the Great Red Spot so great."

The first scientific results of the Juno mission -- delivered earlier this year -- showed Jupiter to host a multitude of large cyclone-like storms, the Great Red Spot remains the biggest and most famous. It boasts tremendous wind speeds and measures 10,000 miles across, making the storm 1.3 times the width of Earth.

"Juno found that the Great Red Spot's roots go 50 to 100 times deeper than Earth's oceans and are warmer at the base than they are at the top," said Juno co-investigator Andy Ingersoll, a professor of planetary science at Caltech. "Winds are associated with differences in temperature, and the warmth of the spot's base explains the ferocious winds we see at the top of the atmosphere."

The new Juno data also revealed the presence of a previously unknown radiation band near Jupiter's equator. The zone lies just above the atmosphere and is composed of hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur ions racing at almost light speed.

"We didn't think we'd find a new radiation zone that close to the planet," said Heidi Becker, who is leading Juno's radiation monitoring investigation. "We only found it because Juno's unique orbit around Jupiter allows it to get really close to the cloud tops during science collection flybys, and we literally flew through it."

Juno's Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument also detected large concentrations of high-energy ion in the planet's relativistic electron radiation belt. Scientists aren't yet sure what kind of ions they are or where they come from.

The Juno probe has conducted eight scientific flybys over Jupiter, dipping its trajectory across the gas giant's upper atmosphere. The spacecraft will begin its ninth close pass on Dec. 16.

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