CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Monstrous cyclones are churning over Jupiter’s poles, until now a largely unexplored region that is more turbulent than scientists expected.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft spotted the chaotic weather at the top and bottom of Jupiter once it began skimming the cloud tops last year, surprising researchers who assumed the giant gas planet would be relatively boring and uniform down low.
“What we’re finding is anything but that is the truth. It’s very different, very complex,” Juno’s chief scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute said Thursday.
With dozens of cyclones hundreds of miles across — alongside unidentifiable weather systems stretching thousands of miles — the poles look nothing like Jupiter’s equatorial region, instantly recognizable by its stripes and Great Red Spot, a raging hurricane-like storm.
“That’s the Jupiter we’ve all known and grown to love,” Bolton said. “And when you look from the pole, it looks totally different … I don’t think anybody would have guessed this is Jupiter.”
He calls these first major findings, published Thursday, “Earth-shattering, or should I say, Jupiter-shattering.”
Turning counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere just like on Earth, the cyclones are clearly clustered near the poles. The diameters of some of these cyclones stretch 870 miles (1,400 kilometers). Even bigger, though shapeless weather systems are present in both polar regions. At the same time, the two poles don’t really resemble each other, which is puzzling, according to Bolton.
Scientists are eager to see, over time, whether these super cyclones are stable or dynamic. “Are they going to stay the same way for years and years like the Great Red Spot … Of course, only time will tell,” Bolton said.
Juno was launched in 2011 and has been orbiting Jupiter since last summer.