Phenomena

Understanding Jupiter

The swirling clouds of Jupiter hide a complicated and mysterious interior. For decades, scientists have worked to puzzle out the inner dynamics of Jupiter’s atmosphere and what could be going on inside it to generate the flows we see visibly. Near Jupiter’s equator, we see strong jets that flow either east or west, depending on their latitude; this creates the stunning cloud bands we’re used to seeing on the planet. Toward the poles, though, things look more like what we see above – swirling but unbanded.

Through theory, experiments, and simulations, scientists have tried to work out exactly what ingredients are necessary to make Jupiter look this way, but it’s pretty tough to recreate the conditions simply because Jupiter is so extreme. You need a lot of rotation, a lot of turbulence, and a way to stretch that turbulence if you want to imitate Jupiter. There’s been progress recently, though, and it suggests that the jets we see on Jupiter are far more than skin-deep. Instead, they likely stretch deep into the Jovian atmosphere at the equator and ride somewhat shallower toward the poles. (Image credit: NASA JPL; research credit: S. Cabanes et al.)

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