Jupiter, the dance of giant cyclones discovered around the poles
Enormous cyclones, thousands of kilometres large, move as in a dance around the poles of Jupiter, the gas giant of our Solar System.
Italy played a leading role in the discovery that was made by a research group led by Alberto Adriani of the National Institute for Astrophysics. The study, published in Nature, involved researchers from the National Research Council, the Italian Space Agency and INAF.
“In particular, there are two stable cyclones located on each pole, surrounded by swirling structures resembling a wreath around them”, explained Alberto Adriani.
The two massive cyclones around Jupiter’s poles are surrounded by other large cyclones of similar sizes: eight at the North Pole and five at the South Pole, respectively. With diameters ranging between 4,000 and 6,000 kilometres, these polar cyclones are comparable in size to the Earth radius. Wind speeds within them are very high, ranging between 150 and 350 kilometres per hour.
The images that document the phenomenon were acquired by the Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper JIRAM, the Made in Italy instrument developed under the guidance of the Italian Space Agency, located aboard NASA’s Juno mission.
“In the repeated observations made in these months by JIRAM, we have seen that the polar vortices on Jupiter are stable, so stable as to block the drift of those cyclonic structures, which form at lower latitudes and try to move towards the poles”, Adriani added.
Until now, it has not been possible to observe the polar regions of the largest planet in our Solar System. Juno succeeded in entering the planet’s orbit, which allowed it to pass over both of Jupiter’s poles.
A fundamental contribution to the mission was made by the instruments aboard Juno, including JIRAM, a sort of infrared ‘camera’.
“The development of JIRAM is an important technological and scientific success for the Italian community and is the result of the important and decisive coordination effort made by ASI to allow Leonardo S.p.A, the company that built the instrument, to work in perfect synergy with the INAF Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology (IAPS), where the project’s scientific director comes from”, explained Angelo Olivieri, ASI Programme Manager for JIRAM.
Data analysis was also made possible by the collaboration with CNR researchers who contributed their expertise on the study of the atmosphere.