Mystery of Strange Storms on Jupiter With Unusual Geometric Pattern Solved With Help From 19th Century Physics

Jupiter’s Outer Atmosphere Extend Thousands of Miles into Jupiter

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Storms collected at the south pole of Jupiter, as imaged by the Juno probe. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

At the south pole of Jupiter hides a striking sight—even for a gas giant world covered in vibrant bands that sports a red area bigger than the earth. Down near the south pole of the world, mainly concealed from the spying eyes of people, is a collection of swirling storms organized in an uncommonly geometric pattern.

Since they were very first identified by NASA’s Juno area probe in 2019, the storms have actually provided something of a secret to researchers. The storms are comparable to typhoons on Earth. However, on our world, typhoons do not collect themselves at the poles and twirl around each other in the shape of a pentagon or hexagon, as do Jupiter’s curious storms.

Now, a research study group operating in the laboratory of Andy Ingersoll, Caltech teacher of planetary science, has actually found why Jupiter’s storms act so oddly. They did so utilizing mathematics originated from an evidence composed by Lord Kelvin, a British mathematical physicist and engineer, almost 150 years back.

Ingersoll, who belonged to the Juno group, states Jupiter’s storms are extremely comparable to the ones that lash the East Coast of the United States every summertime and fall, simply on a much bigger scale.

“If you went below the cloud tops, you would probably find liquid water rain drops, hail, and snow,” he states. “The winds would be hurricane-force winds. Hurricanes on Earth are a good analog of the individual vortices within these arrangements we see on Jupiter, but there is nothing so stunningly beautiful here.”

Merging Vortices Jupiter

Under some simulated conditions, and on Saturn, cyclonic storms combine with one another rather of pushing back each other. Credit: Caltech

As on Earth, Jupiter’s storms tend to form closer to the equator and after that wander towards the poles. However, Earth’s typhoons and tropical cyclones dissipate prior to they venture too far from the equator. Jupiter’s simply keep going up until they reach the poles.

“The difference is that on the earth hurricanes run out of warm water and they run into continents,” Ingersoll states. Jupiter has no land, “so there’s much less friction because there’s nothing to rub against. There’s just more gas under the clouds. Jupiter also has heat left over from its formation that is comparable to the heat it gets from the sun, so the temperature difference between its equator and its poles is not as great as it is on Earth.”

Repelling Vortices Jupiter

Under some speculative conditions, and on Jupiter, cyclonic storms drive away each other, instead of combining. Credit: Caltech

However, Ingersoll states, this description still does not represent the habits of the storms once they reach Jupiter’s south pole, which is uncommon even compared to other gas giants. Saturn, which is likewise a gas giant, has one massive storm at each of its poles, instead of a geometrically organized collection of storms.

The response to the secret of why Jupiter has these geometric developments and other worlds do not, Ingersoll and his coworkers found, might be discovered in the past, particularly in work carried out in 1878 by Alfred Mayer, an American physicist, and Lord Kelvin. Mayer had actually put drifting circular magnets in a swimming pool of water and observed that they would spontaneously organize themselves into geometric setups, comparable to those seen on Jupiter, with shapes that depended upon the variety of magnets. Kelvin utilized Mayer’s observations to establish a mathematical design to describe the magnets’ habits.

“Back in the 19th century, people were thinking about how spinning pieces of fluid would arrange themselves into polygons,” Ingersoll states. “Although there were lots of laboratory studies of these fluid polygons, no one had thought of applying that to a planetary surface.”

To do so, the research study group utilized a set of formulas referred to as the shallow-water formulas to construct a computer system design of what may be occurring on Jupiter, and started to run simulations.

“We wanted to explore the combination of parameters that makes these cyclones stable,” states Cheng Li (Phd ’17), lead author and 51 Pegasi b postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. “There are established theories that predict that cyclones tend to merge at the pole due to the rotation of the planet and that’s what we found in the initial trial runs.”

Eventually, nevertheless, the group discovered that a Jupiter-like steady geometric plan of storms would form if the storms were each surrounded by a ring of winds that kipped down the opposite instructions from the spinning storms, or a so-called anticyclonic ring. The existence of anticyclonic rings triggers the storms to drive away each other, instead of combine.

Ingersoll states the research study might assist researchers much better comprehend how weather condition on Earth acts.

“Other planets provide a much wider range of behaviors than what you see on Earth,” he states, “so you study the weather on other planets in order to stress-test your theories.”

Reference: “Modeling the stability of polygonal patterns of vortices at the poles of Jupiter as exposed by the Juno spacecraft” by Cheng Li, Andrew P. Ingersoll, Alexandra P. Klipfel and Harriet Brettle, 8 September 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2008440117

The paper appears in the September 8, 2020, Issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors are Cheng Li of UC Berkeley, and Harriet Brettle (MS ’19) and undergraduate trainee Alexandra Klipfel, both of Caltech.

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