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Mystery of Jupiter's coloured bands solved

Mystery of Jupiter's coloured bands solved

2018-08-12T21:45:15+05:00 -DM

LONDON-The mystery underlying Jupiter's characteristic coloured bands has been solved thanks to data from Nasa's probe orbiting around the gas giant.

Several strong jet streams flow west to east in Jupiter's atmosphere, which are similar to Earth's jet streams.

However, unlike on Earth where the jet streams meander across the surface, Jupiter's jet streams are more even and straight.

There are also no continents and mountains below Jupiter's atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams.

As a result, the jet streams on Jupiter are much simpler than those on Earth, causing less turbulence in the upper atmosphere.

Clouds of ammonia at Jupiter's outer atmosphere are carried along by these jet streams to form Jupiter's regimented coloured bands.

Unlike Earth, our Solar System's largest planet has no solid surface – it is an entirely gaseous planet, consisting mostly of hydrogen and helium.

An international team of scientists, including from the Australian National University (ANU), studied recent evidence from Nasa's Juno spacecraft which examined these layers of gases.

This showed that Jupiter's jet streams reach as deep as 1,800 miles (3,000 km) below Jupiter's clouds, which are shades of white, red, orange, brown and yellow.

Experts say the interaction between Jupiter's atmosphere and its magnetic fields is responsible for the bright layers visible on the planet's surface. 

Dr Navid Constantinou from the research school of Earth Sciences at ANU's, one of the researchers on the study, said that until recently little was known about what happened below Jupiter's clouds.

'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 said.

'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.

'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.'

The polar and subtropical jet streams in Earth's atmosphere shape the climate, especially in the mid-latitudes such as in Australia, Europe and North America.

Experts say their findings suggest that Jupiter's jet streams are suppressed by a strong magnetic field.

The gas in the interior of Jupiter is magnetised, which researchers believe explains why the jet streams go as deep as they do but don't go any deeper.

Their research involved mathematical calculations to work out the instability that leads to jet streams when magnetic fields are present.

They also compared their theoretical predictions with results from previous computer simulations. 

'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,' added Dr Jeffrey Parker, co-researcher from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal.

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