Scientists Stunned by Mysterious Cyclones at Jupiter’s Poles

Huge polygon-shaped cyclone systems at Jupiter’s north and south poles have baffled scientists at how they maintain their bizarre but beautifully geometric shapes for years.

The hurricane-force storms — each the size of the continental United States — have inexplicably remained stable in their strange configurations since they were first discovered by the Juno spacecraft in 2017.

At the gas giant’s north pole, the spacecraft observed a massive cyclone surrounded by eight smaller cyclones that appear to be swirling around it. At the South Pole, a similar structure of cyclones in a hexagonal shape exists.

Now a group of scientists, led by Andrew P. Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology, said they may have found an explanation for the strange phenomenon on the planet — the largest in the solar system.

The scientists found that it appears that “an anticyclone ring” between the main cyclone and the smaller cyclones keeps the clusters in their unique polygonal patterns, according to the new study on the Arctic vortices, published Wednesday in Nature Astronomy.

Perfect geometric 'polygons' of cyclones on Jupiter.
For years, scientists have been baffled by the polygon-shaped cyclone patterns that form at Jupiter’s poles.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

However, many questions remain about the storms.

“Since 2017, the Juno spacecraft has observed a cyclone at Jupiter’s north pole, surrounded by eight smaller cyclones arranged in a polygonal pattern,” the study says. “It is not clear why this configuration is so stable or how it is maintained.”

“The polygons and the individual vortices that make up them have been stable for 4 years since Juno discovered them,” the researchers continued. “The polygonal patterns rotate slowly or not at all.”

Researchers used a series of images captured by Juno’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper [JIRAM] on Juno to track winds with the polar cyclone and two from the circumpolar, according to the study.

However, the scientists didn’t find what they expected based on previous “dynamic assumptions” regarding “the expected signature of convection — a spatial correlation between divergence and anticyclonic vorticity.”

Additional research on Jupiter’s southern cyclones is needed to reconcile the conflicting data, researchers said.

“These cyclones are new weather phenomena that have not been seen or predicted before,” said Cheng Li, a Juno scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, in a 2019 NASA study on the cyclones.

“Nature is revealing new physics related to fluid motions and how the atmospheres of giant planets work. We are beginning to understand it through observations and computer simulations. Future Juno flybys will help us further refine our understanding by revealing how the cyclones evolve over their course.” develop over time.”

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