Huge polygon-shaped cyclone systems at Jupiter’s north and south poles have puzzled scientists as to how they maintain their bizarre but beautifully geometric shapes for years.
The hurricane-force storms — each the size of the continental United States — have remained inexplicably stable in their bizarre patterns since they were discovered by the Juno spacecraft in 2017.
At the gas giant’s north pole, the spacecraft observed a massive cyclone surrounded by eight smaller cyclones that appear to swirl around it. At the south pole, a similar structure of cyclones exists in a hexagonal shape.
Now a group of scientists, led by Andrew P. Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology, say they may have found an explanation for the strange phenomenon on the planet – the largest in the solar system.
Scientists have found that there is “an anticyclonic ring” between the main cyclone and smaller cyclones that keeps the clusters in their unique polygonal patterns, according to the new North Pole vortex study, published Wednesday in Nature Astronomy.
However, many questions about storms remain.
“Since 2017, the Juno spacecraft has observed a cyclone at Jupiter’s north pole surrounded by eight smaller cyclones arranged in a polygonal pattern,” the study said. “It is not known why this configuration is so stable or how it is maintained.”
“The polygons and the individual vortices that compose them have been stable for 4 years since Juno discovered them,” the researchers continued. “Polygonal patterns rotate slowly, if at all.”
The researchers used a series of images captured by Juno’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper [JIRAM] on Juno to track winds with the polar cyclone and two of the circumpolar cyclones, according to the study.
However, the scientists did not find what they expected based on previous “dynamics assumptions” regarding the “expected signature of convection – a spatial correlation between divergence and anticyclonic eddy”.
Further research on Jupiter’s southern cyclones is needed to reconcile the conflicting data, the researchers said.
“These cyclones are new weather phenomena that have never been seen or predicted before,” said Cheng Li, a Juno scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, in a 2019 NASA study of cyclones.
“Nature is revealing new physics about how fluids move and how the atmospheres of giant planets work. We are beginning to understand it through observations and computer simulations. Upcoming Juno flybys will help refine our understanding by revealing how cyclones evolve over time.
New York Post