How Jupiter gets its stripes has been one of astronomy’s most enticing mysteries.
They are straight. They are clearly defined. They have different colors.
Now, thanks to the Juno space probe currently in orbit around the gas giant, we’ve been able to infer what’s going on beneath them.
Researchers from Australia and the United States have been looking into the interaction between the planet’s atmosphere and its magnetic field.
Dr. Navid Constantinou from the Research School of Earth Sciences at The Australian National University (ANU) has been taking part in the study.
“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 says.
Jupiter is a gas giant. It has no solid surface like Earth’s. Instead, it’s made up mostly of hydrogen and helium.
So do the winds go all the way down?
Thanks to Juno, we now know these enormous funnels of wind extend some 3000km deep.
And that’s not as far as expected.
“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,” Dr. Constantinou says.
The theory put forward by the new study argues the winds are suppressed by strong magnetic fields.
“The gas in the interior of Jupiter is magnetized,, so we think our new theory explains why the jet streams go as deep as they do under the gas giant’s surface but don’t go any deeper,” says Co-researcher Dr. Jeffrey Parker from Livermore National Laboratory in the United States.
Just as the jet-streams of Earth shape our climate, Jupiter’s jet-streams shape the clouds of ammonia cast about in the gas giant’s upper atmosphere. This gives the planet its distinctive shades of white, red, orange, brown and yellow coloration.
“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,” says Dr. Constantinou.
They have a similar effect on Jupiter. To a point.
They are also straighter. And much faster.
“There are no continents and mountains below Jupiter’s atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams,” Dr. Parker adds.
“This makes the jet streams on Jupiter simpler. 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.”
This story originally appeared in news.com.au.