NASA’s Juno probe, which launched towards Jupiter nearly seven years ago, has finally given us images inside the biggest planet in our Solar System.
The look has been described as “unearthly.”
The space agency released the photos on Wednesday, and they show wind-sculpted bands that are nearly 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) long. The Jovian weather layer contains one percent of the planet’s mass, the equivalent of the mass of 3 Earths.
“These astonishing science results are yet another example of Jupiter’s curve balls, and a testimony to the value of exploring the unknown from a new perspective with next-generation instruments,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio in the press release.
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Bolton added that, though Juno is only about one-third done with its primary mission, “we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter.”
Other findings from the space probe, which cost $1.1 billion and was built by Lockheed Martin, show massive cyclones that surround the planet’s north and south poles and are “unlike anything else encountered in our solar system.”
The findings are published in the the journal Nature.
So far, nine cyclones have been spotted over the planet’s poles, each with wind speeds approaching 220 mph. By comparison, wind speeds on a Category 5 hurricane on Earth are 157 mph or higher, according to the National Hurricane Center.
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What has astonished researchers about the cyclones is their impressive size – each measuring several thousand miles across – and the fact they have yet to merge.
“The question is, why do they not merge?” said Alberto Adriani, Juno co-investigator and the lead author of the paper. “We know with Cassini data that Saturn has a single cyclonic vortex at each pole. We are beginning to realize that not all gas giants are created equal.”
Juno first came into Jupiter’s orbit in 2016 and has released stunning images of the planet before. In July 2017, it flew past Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, a 10,000-mile wide storm that has been monitored since 1830.
Launched in 2011, Juno has been peering beneath the planet’s thick ammonia clouds. It’s only the second spacecraft to circle Jupiter; Galileo did it from 1995 to 2003.
By better understanding these strong jet streams and the gravity field, the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Yohai Kaspi said scientists can better decipher Jupiter’s core. A similar situation may be occurring at other big gas planets like Saturn, where the atmosphere could be even deeper than Jupiter’s, he said.
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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers Glenn Orton and Fachreddin Tabataba-Vakili, who both took part in the cyclone study, said all these new discoveries “show Jupiter from a new perspective” unseen before Juno.
“We cannot say how many mysteries are left to uncover,” they wrote in an email. “We are already finding way more fascinating results than we ever expected!”
The Associated Press and Fox News’ James Rogers contributed to this story. Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia