Juno’s first hints of Jupiter’s interior


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Data from Juno not only suggests that the gas giant has a small fuzzy core, its storms appear to extend thousands of miles into the interior.

By studying Jupiter’s gravitational field, researchers can probe thousands of kilometres into the planet. On each close fly-by, Juno measures the planet’s complex gravitational tug. These observations have already revealed that Jupiter has a small, ‘fuzzy’, poorly defined core.

The latest results show that Jupiter’s gravitational field is askew, with different patterns in its northern and southern hemispheres, said Tristan Guillot, a planetary scientist at the Observatory of the Côte d’Azur in Nice, France. That suggests that its hydrogen-rich gas is flowing asymmetrically deep in the planet. “This is something that was not expected,” Guillot said at the meeting. “We were not sure at all whether we would be able to see that.”

Another clue to the structure of Jupiter’s interior came from how the gravity field varies with depth. Theoretical studies predict that the bigger the gravity signal, the stronger the flow of gas deep down. That information is important for teasing out whether all of Jupiter’s interior is rotating as a single solid body, or whether different layers spin separately from one another, like a set of nesting Russian dolls moving within each other.

Juno detected a gravity signal powerful enough to indicate that material is flowing as far down as 3,000 kilometres. “We’re just taking the clouds and the winds and extending them into the interior,” Kaspi said. Future work could help to pinpoint how strong the flow is at various depths, which could resolve whether Jupiter’s interior really resembles Russian dolls.

What is especially fascinating is that this first study of Jupiter shows it to appear so very different than Cassini’s first look at Saturn. Their polar regions are completely different, their storms are different, even their horizontal bands behave and look different. As I’ve said numerous times, the one given in planetary exploration is that every single planetary object we look at will be completely different from every other object.

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