The mystery of Jupiter’s coloured bands is finally solved!

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The mystery underlying Jupiter’s characteristic coloured bands has been solved thanks to data from Nasa‘s probe orbiting around the gas giant.

Several strong jet streams flow west to east in Jupiter’s atmosphere, which are similar to Earth’s jet streams.

However, unlike on Earth where the jet streams meander across the surface, Jupiter’s jet streams are more even and straight. 

There are also no continents and mountains below Jupiter’s atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams.

As a result, the jet streams on Jupiter are much simpler than those on Earth, causing less turbulence in the upper atmosphere.

Clouds of ammonia at Jupiter’s outer atmosphere are carried along by these jet streams to form Jupiter’s regimented coloured bands.

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The mystery underlying Jupiter's characteristic coloured bands has been solved thanks to data from Nasa's probe to the gas giant. Several strong jet streams flow west to east in Jupiter's atmosphere, which are similar to Earth's jet streams (artist's impression)

The mystery underlying Jupiter’s characteristic coloured bands has been solved thanks to data from Nasa’s probe to the gas giant. Several strong jet streams flow west to east in Jupiter’s atmosphere, which are similar to Earth’s jet streams (artist’s impression)

Unlike Earth, our Solar System’s largest planet has no solid surface – it is an entirely gaseous planet, consisting mostly of hydrogen and helium. 

An international team of scientists, including from the Australian National University (ANU), studied recent evidence from Nasa’s Juno spacecraft which examined these layers of gases.

This showed that Jupiter’s jet streams reach as deep as 1,800 miles (3,000 km) below Jupiter’s clouds, which are shades of white, red, orange, brown and yellow. 

Experts say the interaction between Jupiter’s atmosphere and its magnetic fields is responsible for the bright layers visible on the planet’s surface.  

However, unlike on Earth where the jet streams meander, Jupiter's jet streams are more even and straight (stock image) 

However, unlike on Earth where the jet streams meander, Jupiter’s jet streams are more even and straight (stock image) 

WHAT CAUSES JUPITER’S CHARACTERISTIC BANDS?

Experts have studied recent evidence gathered from Nasa’s Juno spacecraft to reveal the reason why gases form bands on Jupiter.

Clouds of ammonia at Jupiter’s outer atmosphere are carried along by jet streams to form Jupiter’s regimented coloured bands.

Jupiter’s jet streams reach as deep as 1,800 miles (3,000 km) below Jupiter’s clouds, which are shades of white, red, orange, brown and yellow.

The gas in the interior of Jupiter is magnetised, which researchers believe explains why the jet streams go as deep as they do but don’t go any deeper. 

There are also no continents and mountains below Jupiter’s atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet stream. 

This makes the jet streams on Jupiter simpler than those on Earth and cause less turbulence in it’s upper atmosphere.

Dr Navid Constantinou from the research school of Earth Sciences at ANU’s, one of the researchers on the study, said that until recently little was known about what happened below Jupiter’s clouds.

‘We know a lot about the jet streams in Earth’s atmosphere and the key role they play in the weather and climate, but we still have a lot to learn about Jupiter’s atmosphere,’ he said. 

‘Earth’s jet streams have a huge impact on the weather and climate by acting as a barrier and making it harder for air on either side of them to exchange properties such as heat, moisture and carbon.

‘Scientists have long debated how deep the jet streams reach beneath the surfaces of Jupiter and other gas giants, and why they do not appear in the sun’s interior.’ 

There are also no continents and mountains below Jupiter's atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams. This makes the jet streams on Jupiter simpler than those on Earth, causing less turbulence in it's upper atmosphere (stock image)

There are also no continents and mountains below Jupiter’s atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams. This makes the jet streams on Jupiter simpler than those on Earth, causing less turbulence in it’s upper atmosphere (stock image)

Clouds of ammonia at Jupiter's outer atmosphere are carried along by these jet streams to form Jupiter's regimented coloured bands, pictured in this stock image

Clouds of ammonia at Jupiter’s outer atmosphere are carried along by these jet streams to form Jupiter’s regimented coloured bands, pictured in this stock image

WHAT WAS NASA’S JUNO MISSION TO JUPITER?

The Juno probe reached Jupiter last year after a five-year, 1.8 billion-mile journey from Earth

The Juno probe reached Jupiter last year after a five-year, 1.8 billion-mile journey from Earth

 The Juno probe reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016, after a five-year, 1.8 billion-mile (2.8bn km) journey from Earth.

Following a successful braking manoeuvre, it entered into a long polar orbit flying to within 3,100 miles (5,000 km) of the planet’s swirling cloud tops.

The probe skimmed to within just 2,600 miles (4,200 km) of the planet’s clouds once a fortnight – too close to provide global coverage in a single image.

No previous spacecraft has orbited so close to Jupiter, although two others have been sent plunging to their destruction through its atmosphere.

To complete its risky mission Juno survived a circuit-frying radiation storm generated by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field.

The maelstrom of high energy particles travelling at nearly the speed of light is the harshest radiation environment in the Solar System.

To cope with the conditions, the spacecraft was protected with special radiation-hardened wiring and sensor shielding.

Its all-important ‘brain’ – the spacecraft’s flight computer – was housed in an armoured vault made of titanium and weighing almost 400 pounds (172kg).

Juno completed a total of 37 orbits of Jupiter, on a path that carefully avoided the most intense radiation, before plunging into the planet’s atmosphere.

The polar and subtropical jet streams in Earth’s atmosphere shape the climate, especially in the mid-latitudes such as in Australia, Europe and North America.

Experts say their findings suggest that Jupiter’s jet streams are suppressed by a strong magnetic field.

The gas in the interior of Jupiter is magnetised, which researchers believe explains why the jet streams go as deep as they do but don’t go any deeper.

Their research involved mathematical calculations to work out the instability that leads to jet streams when magnetic fields are present. 

They also compared their theoretical predictions with results from previous computer simulations.  

‘By studying Jupiter, not only do we unravel the mysteries in the interior of the gas giant, but we can also use Jupiter as a laboratory for studying how atmospheric flows work in general,’ added Dr Jeffrey Parker, co-researcher from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal.

The polar and subtropical jet streams in Earth's atmosphere shape the climate, especially in the mid-latitudes such as in Australia, Europe and North America. This stock image show's the characteristic Great Red Spot storm

The polar and subtropical jet streams in Earth’s atmosphere shape the climate, especially in the mid-latitudes such as in Australia, Europe and North America. This stock image show’s the characteristic Great Red Spot storm

WHAT IS JUPITER’S GREAT RED SPOT?

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a giant oval of crimson-coloured clouds in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere that race counterclockwise around the oval’s perimeter.

The biggest storm in the solar system, it appears as a deep red orb surrounded by layers of pale yellow, orange and white.

Trapped between two jet streams, the Great Red Spot is an anticyclone swirling around a centre of high atmospheric pressure that makes it rotate in the opposite direction to hurricanes on Earth.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is a giant oval of crimson-coloured clouds in Jupiter's southern hemisphere that race counterclockwise around the oval's perimeter

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a giant oval of crimson-coloured clouds in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere that race counterclockwise around the oval’s perimeter

Winds inside the storm have been measured at several hundreds of miles per hour, with wind storms greater than any storm on Earth, Nasa astronomers have said. 

In the late 1800s it was estimated to be about 35,000 miles (about 56,000 km) in diameter – wide enough for four Earths to fit side by side.  

Measuring 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometres) wide as of April 3, 2017, the Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth and is gradually shrinking over time.





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