Jupiter's Great Red Spot's roots revealed by Juno spacecraft

Jupiter's Great Red Spot's roots revealed by Juno spacecraft

Jupiter's famous storm, the Great Red Spot, penetrates well below the clouds - about 300 kilometres into the planet's atmosphere, suggest data collected by NASA's Juno spacecraft.

NASA's Juno spacecraft has identified the Great Red Spot in Jupiter's southern hemisphere as a huge storm whose base would be around 50 to 100 times deeper than the Earth's oceans.

These findings were announced today at the 2017 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Microwave Radiometer (MWR) on the spacecraft was used by the researchers to look into the spot. The Great Red Spot is a giant storm 1.3X the size of Earth that's been raging for hundreds of years. It has storm wind speeds greater than any storm on Earth measuring 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) in width.

The storm is being monitored by NASA since 1830 and is still a matter of debate for researchers. During the 19th century, and again when NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft sped by on the way to Saturn in 1979, the spot stretched well over two Earths wide. But in modern times, the Great Red Spot appears to be diminishing in size, as measured by Earth-based telescopes and spacecraft, the scientists said.

Juno also found a new zone with radiation which is located just above the atmosphere in Jupiter located near the equator.

As if to hammer that point home the team also discovered something else pretty terrifying which is that Jupiter has an invisible band of radiation that's travelling close to the planet's surface at nearly light speed. "We only found it because Juno's unique orbit around Jupiter allows it to get really close to the cloud tops during science collection flybys, and we literally flew through it", Becker said.

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"The closer you get to Jupiter, the weirder it gets", said Dr. Heidi Becker, Juno's radiation monitoring investigation lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The previously uncharted radiation zone was detected by the Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument.

Juno launched on August 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

These particles are produced in the gas clouds around Jupiter's moons, Io and Europa, but are stripped of electrons and become charged as they interact with Jupiter's atmosphere.

Juno's Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument also detected large concentrations of high-energy ion in the planet's relativistic electron radiation belt. When it completes its 12th orbit, the craft is scheduled to plunge into the atmosphere of Jupiter similar to how Cassini met its end in September.

This most recent discovery was made thanks to data from Juno's most recent trip over Jupiter, which was widely reported on at the time. Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Juno's next science permit is planned for December 16.

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