Juno has completed its second flyby of Jupiter, skimming close to the atmosphere and managing to get some interesting pictures of Jupiter’s polar regions.
Apparently we’ve never gotten a good look at Jupiter’s poles before. I imagine there’s a lot of frantic technical analysis going on right now at NASA, but not a whole lot of info has been released to the public so far.
We do have a press release, which I’m taking as a small preview of the real science that’s still to come. From the press release, we’ve learned that:
- There’s a heck of a lot of storms, sort of clustered together. It’ll be interesting to find out which way they rotate. Are we looking at cyclones or anticyclones? (The Great Red Spot is an anticyclone, by the way).
- Apparently cast-shadows are visible, suggesting clouds of varying altitudes. I’m guessing we’ll learn something about regional temperature and pressure variations from that.
- The clouds have a bluish tint. In my inexpert opinion, that might indicate elevated concentrations of methane (the gas that makes Uranus and Neptune look so blue). That would be a change from the ammonia clouds we’re used to seeing in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere.
In short, it sounds like Jupiter’s polar regions have a whole separate ecosystem of clouds and storms. Do these storm systems function independently from the belts and zones observed at other longitudes, or could there be some complex relationship at work?
The Juno spacecraft has a little less than two years to find out. Good luck, Juno. We’re all counting on you.