NASA and Israelis reveal depth measurement of Jupiter’s red spot – WATCH

Scientists from NASA and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science completed the first in-depth measurement of Jupiter’s red spot and revealed new information about the formation of storms on the largest planet in the solar system.

The mysterious Great Red Spot has been the planet’s fifth most famous feature of the Sun for centuries. Its existence was first verified in the 19th century, although earlier accounts suggest that it may have existed for more than 360 years.

It is the largest known storm in the solar system, and its bright red color and distinctive shape and appearance have made it one of the most recognizable features on nearby planets, along with the great rings of Saturn.

But its existence has often been puzzling. Why does it exist? What has made this storm brewing for so long?

Not all of these questions have been answered, but the findings of this new study, published in the academic journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters, have revealed more information about this strange phenomenon.

Jupiter jet stream animation. (Credit: YOHAI KASPI (WEIZMANN INSTITUTE))

The research was based on the methodology created by Weizmann Institute scientists Prof. Yohai Kaspi and Dr. Eli Galanti. It was planned by them, along with Dr. Marzia Parisi, formerly of the Weizmann Institute and now a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This experiment focused on the Juno mission, a space probe that was launched a decade ago and reached the orbit of Jupiter in 2016. Studying the Great Red Spot in this way was not something the mission was originally planned for, but Kaspi and his team had proposed an experiment: a flyby of the planet dedicated to measuring gravity.

“When the spacecraft flies around Jupiter, we feel the force of gravity,” Kaspi said in an interview. “When you have some kind of flow, you have small variations in density, and that affects gravity.”

“If you have a storm on Earth, you connect it to a small change in pressure and density,” he said. “The gravity you feel flying above the storm is the sum of all the gravity below you. So if there is a variation, it is something that is felt in a spaceship or an airplane.

“On Earth, the atmosphere is so small that you don’t really feel it. But on Jupiter, because the atmosphere is so massive and the planet has no surface, it really makes a difference. “

However, the difference itself is still very small, Kaspi said.

“If you weighed 70 kg. before, then you would weigh 70.00001 kg. “, said. “That is the kind of difference we are talking about. But our instruments are sensitive enough to feel that. On Earth, which is a solid planet with a thinner atmosphere, the situation is completely different. “

Unlike Earth, Jupiter is a gas giant, which means that it is not solid rock. While gas giants have a solid core, this is not the same type of core as on Earth, where it is solid like a rock. Rather, it is that the temperature and pressure are so high that it is like a liquid mixing with gas.

Also, even if there was a solid core, it would be so far from where the probe was flying that it wouldn’t make any difference.

The findings revealed the great depth of the storm: 500 km. For comparison, if a storm of this size had manifested on Earth, it would hit the International Space Station, Galanti said in the study appearing in Science.

The Great Red Spot is far from the only storm on Jupiter. In fact, the experiment detected the presence of many others that, although smaller than the Great Red Spot, were still much larger than anything that appeared on Earth.

But why are Jupiter’s storms so different?

Part of this is explained by another discovery in the experiment: Jupiter’s jet streams and Ferrel cells.

Jet streams are narrow bands of wind in the upper atmosphere. A Ferrel cell is part of the planetary air circulation. Both are balanced with each other and are integral to the maintenance and functionality of a planet’s environment and climate.

On Earth, there is a single jet stream, flowing from east to west, and two Ferrel cells, one in the north and one in the south, with the equator in the middle.

The uniqueness of the Earth’s Ferrel cells and the jet stream is due in part to their speed of rotation (completing one rotation every 24 hours).

In contrast, Jupiter, which completes a rotation every 10 hours, is different. It has multiple jet streams, going in opposite directions, and instead of two Ferrel cells, it has 16.

Jet streams and Ferrel cells have divided Jupiter’s airflow into belts and zones. (credit: YOHAI KASPI (WEIZMANN INSTITUTE))

However, in a way, this makes Jupiter similar to Earth, as the experiment found evidence that jet streams and Ferrel cells affect Jupiter’s circulation system in ways similar to Earth’s.

It is also the first definitive proof that such a phenomenon occurs in a gas giant.

Could such a phenomenon occur on other worlds?

According to Kaspi, it is very possible, especially on Saturn.

“We know that Saturn has jet streams and we know that there are storms there,” he explained. “However, there are no missions planned for Saturn, and it is unlikely that we will have evidence anytime soon.”

The situation is not so clear with Uranus and Neptune, which appear to lack jet streams. Uranus has an irregular rotation, spinning sideways rather than in the same way that other planets do. But Neptune doesn’t, so it’s unclear if that plays a role. Kaspi said it’s possible that their distance from the Sun is a factor, meaning their temperatures are different, but this is unclear.

Venus is another story too. The second planet from the Sun has an atmosphere more than 90 times denser than Earth’s, and there are jet streams in the upper atmosphere, although they go from west to east. However, their rotation is much slower.

So what do jet streams have to do with the Great Red Spot?

This, at least, is one thing we do know.

“The Great Red Spot is between two jet streams,” Kaspi said. “One reason it doesn’t go away is that the two jet streams feed it. Storms on Earth last perhaps a week or two. But here there is only a jet stream. On Jupiter, because there are multiple jet streams, the storms always settle between the jets. “

But if there are so many jet streams on Jupiter, why is there only one Great Red Spot?

“We don’t know,” Kaspi admitted. “There are storms on Jupiter that last for years and even decades, but nothing like the Great Red Spot, which has lasted for centuries. We don’t know why it is so special.

“The configuration of the jet streams at that location maintains it, but we don’t know exactly why it does it just for this storm. We know that it is deep: 500 km. – and the pressure there is like the ocean floor on Earth, so it contains enough mass that it doesn’t dissolve. But why is this storm so deep?

That is not the only mystery that remains about the Great Red Spot.

“We also don’t know why the Great Red Spot is red,” Kaspi said. “We know that it is a photochemical effect. But we don’t know why it happens and why it is so distinctively different compared to the rest of the atmosphere. “

However, it is possible that another storm such as the Great Red Spot will appear, either on Jupiter or, although more unlikely, on Saturn. But we don’t know how.

Furthermore, it is possible, in theory, that other factors could impact jet streams and Ferrel cells, as climate change is doing on Earth. But it is highly unlikely that this could happen on Jupiter, where humanity has not altered the climate.

Until more information is gathered, the Great Red Spot will remain as it is – an iconic phenomenon in the solar system full of mysteries.

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