NASA Satellite Images Reveal Earth-Like Processes Fueling Jupiter’s Cyclones

By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 6, 2024 08:30
Nasa Satellite Images Reveal Earth Like Processes Fueling Jupiter’s Cyclones

New research led by Lia Siegelman, a physical oceanographer at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, reveals that the immense cyclones at Jupiter's polar regions are driven by atmospheric processes similar to those on Earth.

By analyzing high-resolution infrared images captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft, scientists have discovered that convection and other processes familiar to Earth’s oceanographers and meteorologists are crucial in maintaining Jupiter’s colossal storms.

This discovery helps bridge our understanding of atmospheric dynamics across planets, despite the vast differences in their compositions and environments.

Similarities Between Earth and Jupiter

In 2018, Siegelman noticed striking similarities between images of Jupiter’s cyclones and the ocean turbulence she was studying on Earth. Air and water, both considered fluids in physics, exhibit similar behavior under certain conditions, making this comparison plausible.

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Earth And Jupiter

This observation led to a 2022 study that identified convection as a key process in sustaining Jupiter’s storms, which can be thousands of miles wide and last for years. On Earth, convection drives weather patterns and ocean currents, and its presence on Jupiter suggests that the same fundamental principles apply to both planetary atmospheres, despite Jupiter's being primarily composed of hydrogen and helium.

Role of Filaments and Fronts

Published on June 6, 2024, in Nature Physics, Siegelman’s latest study delves deeper into the atmospheric dynamics of Jupiter. The research highlights the role of filaments—wispy tendrils between the cyclones—that act similarly to fronts on Earth. These filaments are narrow regions where there is a sharp change in temperature and density, akin to cold fronts and warm fronts in Earth's atmosphere.

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Fronts on Earth can lead to dramatic weather changes and are essential in the formation of storms. On Jupiter, these fronts, along with convection, transport energy and heat from the planet’s interior to its upper atmosphere, fueling the massive cyclones. This mechanism not only maintains the cyclones but also sustains their longevity and intensity.

Analyzing Infrared Imagery from NASA's Juno

Using a series of infrared images from Juno’s north polar region, taken in 30-second increments, Siegelman and her co-author Patrice Klein calculated the temperature and tracked the movement of clouds and filaments. The infrared images allowed them to distinguish between warmer, thinner clouds and cooler, thicker clouds, which block more heat from Jupiter’s core.

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By analyzing these temperature differences and the movement patterns of the filaments, the researchers could infer horizontal wind speeds and vertical velocities. This comprehensive analysis confirmed that Jupiter’s filaments behave like fronts on Earth, with vertical wind speeds at the edges of these fronts contributing significantly to the energy dynamics of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Exploring the Significance of Cosmic Phenomena

The persistent cyclones observed at Jupiter's poles since 2016, maintained by these Earth-like processes, suggest that such mechanisms may also exist on other turbulent fluid bodies in the universe.

Nasa Satellite Images Reveal Earth Like Processes Fueling Jupiter’s Cyclones

This discovery implies that fundamental atmospheric and oceanic processes are universal and can occur in various planetary environments.

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Understanding these processes on Jupiter helps scientists predict weather patterns on exoplanets and other celestial bodies, expanding our knowledge of the cosmos. It also provides insights into how such massive and enduring storms can be sustained over time, which could inform models of climate and atmospheric behavior on Earth and other planets.

Progress in Visual Representation of Oceanic Phenomena

Siegelman’s research underscores the cosmic beauty of finding physical mechanisms on Earth that also exist on distant planets. The scale of Jupiter and the high-resolution imagery from Juno provide a clearer visualization of these processes, which are often difficult to observe on Earth due to their smaller scale and transient nature.

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The upcoming Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite, scheduled for launch soon, will enhance the ability to observe ocean phenomena on Earth, making it easier to draw parallels with extraterrestrial systems. This satellite will provide high-resolution measurements of water levels, currents, and other critical data, enabling scientists to study the Earth's oceans with unprecedented detail.


An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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