Data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft during its first pass over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in July 2017 indicate that this iconic feature penetrates well below the clouds. Other revelations from the mission include that Jupiter has two previously uncharted radiation zones. The findings were announced Monday at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans.
“One of the most basic questions about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is: how deep are the roots?” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Juno data indicate that the solar system’s most famous storm is almost one-and-a-half Earth-wide, and has roots that penetrate about 200 miles (300 kilometers) into the planet’s atmosphere.”
Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR) has helped the scientists to collect this data. It has some unique capabilities, and it can peer deep below Jupiter’s clouds.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a giant oval of crimson-colored clouds in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere that race counterclockwise around the oval’s perimeter with wind speeds greater than any storm on Earth. Measuring 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) in width as of April 3, 2017, the Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth.
Juno also has detected a new radiation zone, just above the gas giant’s atmosphere, near the equator. The zone includes energetic hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur ions moving at almost light speed. The new zone was identified by the Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument (JEDI) investigation. The particles are believed to be derived from energetic neutral atoms (fast-moving ions with no electric charge) created in the gas around the Jupiter moons Io and Europa. The neutral atoms then become ions as their electrons are stripped away by interaction with the upper atmosphere of Jupiter.
Till now Juno has completed eight science passes over Jupiter. Juno’s ninth science pass will be on Dec. 16. Juno was launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Juno is now studying more and trying to more about the Jupiter’s origins, atmosphere, structure and more.