Physics

Scientists Uncover a Mechanism Behind Jupiter’s Mysterious Winds


When the astronomer Galileo Galilei first set his sights on Jupiter by way of his telescope in 1610, he seen two unusual issues: First, there 4 small moons orbiting the planet, and second, planet had these unusual alternating bands of coloration. Now, over 400 years later, we’re taking a look at these stripes on the Photo voltaic System’s largest planet in a method we by no means have earlier than.

 Quick ahead to the yr 2011: NASA has launched the Juno spacecraft (who’s title has a wierd origin story) in direction of Jupiter, and after a prolonged four-year trek, it lastly started its orbit of the gaseous planet. The Juno mission’s overarching objective is to know how Jupiter shaped, which may inform us concerning the enigmatic origins of our photo voltaic system. Geared up with a magnetometer, an brisk particle detector, a UV spectrograph, and a number of different analytical units, Juno is transmitting a boatload (or spaceshipload if you’ll) of information again to earth. With that information, scientists purpose to unlock the secrets and techniques of this large, swirling ball of gasoline.

 Till Juno, scientists weren’t positive what lies beneath its impressionist painting-like floor. We’re nonetheless not even positive if it has a strong core. In 2016, utilizing radio alerts that mapped the distribution of mass in Jupiter’s ambiance, Juno discovered that beneath a depth of three,000 km (four% of Jupiter’s diameter), the winds simply cease.

 Now, scientists have give you a brand new motive why.


 In case you have been to look by way of a sea of third grade paper mache planets, you’d be capable to spot Jupiter directly no matter their scholar’s inventive potential. It is the massive stripey one. These stripes are known as zonal winds, and we even have them on earth too. On Earth, nonetheless, we even have tall mountains and deep valleys, and this difficult topography makes our winds look extra like a demolition derby, in comparison with Jupiter’s regimented wind site visitors. The zones and belts on Jupiter kind variations in its ambiance’s temperature and chemical composition, the place sizzling materials is rising, and chilly materials is falling. By way of the coriolis impact, these bands alternate their deflection within the eastward or westward instructions.

 What makes Jupiter’s winds completely different from earth’s is that they’re not truly a gasoline, they’re an unique fourth state of matter known as plasma. Plasmas are ionized gases, that means they conduct electrical energy and are strongly affected by magnetic fields.

 “Many of the universe is in a plasma,” stated Jeffrey Parker, a scientist on the Lawrence Livermore Nationwide Laboratory and one of many authors on the examine, “so to know the universe, it is smart to begin with the plasma”.


Whereas plasmas are uncommon on earth, they really make up about 99.9% of the universe. What makes these supplies so advanced is that like our terrestrial ambiance they comply with the legal guidelines of fluid dynamics, however they’re additionally being strongly affected by the magnetic discipline.

 When Jeffery Parker stumbled throughout an article about Juno’s wind discovery, he was immediately curious. See, Parker had achieved his Ph.D. analysis on plasma physics, particularly learning at how giant scale turbulent flows can arrange into patterns…patterns not in contrast to these on Jupiter. 

Researchers had beforehand hypothesized this wind phenomenon is expounded to the planet’s magnetic fields as a result of as you journey additional and additional inside Jupiter, the strain will increase and the plasma is extra ionized. The elevated ionization correlates with the dearth of wind, however till now, scientists weren’t completely positive why.

One principle that’s been thought-about is that differing electrical conductivities create a drag drive on the zonal winds, appearing type of like a break at this depth, however Parker and his colleague Navid Constantinou from the Australian Nationwide College counsel one other method.

 To grasp magnetohydrodynamics, image a flowing river. If all of the water within the river was flowing in the identical path, we might name that stream “laminar”. Rivers not often do this. Usually, rivers stream turbulently, the place the imply path of stream is downstream, however particular person atoms of water are swirling chaotically, generally even touring within the reverse path. When a fluid travels in the other way of stream, that is known as an eddy.

An animation displaying turbulent stream and the formation of eddys. Credit score: Wikimedia Commons
Since Jupiter’s ambiance is made from plasma, forces from the planet’s magnetic discipline strongly affect how the fluid strikes, making our river mannequin a bit extra difficult. Variations within the pace of rotation at completely different depths in Jupiter’s ambiance can regionally bend and warp its magnetic discipline, creating what the authors name a “magnetic eddy”. On Jupiter, this eddy may make the decrease ambiance extra viscous, behaving extra like a cup of honey, versus a cup of water. In response to their calculations, these magnetic forces might be sturdy sufficient to behave as a break, stopping winds at decrease depths in its ambiance.

 This doesn’t essentially imply that magnetic viscosities are solely chargeable for what is going on on with Jupiter’s winds–proper now it’s simply an concept–nevertheless it does imply gasoline giants are extra difficult than we predict.

 “The idea of magnetic eddy viscosity mentioned within the paper is fascinating,” wrote Yash Sarkango, an area physicist and Ph.D. candidate on the College of Michigan, “It could be attention-grabbing to see if there are related plasma regimes elsewhere within the house surroundings the place this phenomenon could play an essential function.”

 Information from NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn may reveal the same course of. Sooner or later, this idea might be used to review gasoline giants in our Photo voltaic System, and all through the Universe, so maintain onto your hat, as a result of it’s about to get windy.

-Lissie Connors (@LissieOfficial) is a graduate scholar on the College of Oregon, and at Physics Buzz, she covers something from plasmas on Jupiter, to the nexus of nuclear physics and mayonnaise.


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