Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jumping Jupiter's Jets!

Ok, bad headline, but what can I say, I suck at headlines (if you haven't noticed that, you haven't been paying attention to my headlines).

Last March, astronomers observed some spectacular storms in the atmosphere of Jupiter, affecting the jet streams of Jupiter. It's not the first time this phenomenon has been observed, but this time it has lead to an international team looking into it.

According to ScienceDaily the team has been successful in understanding the phenomenon better.

Mystery Of Jupiter's Jets Uncovered

At the end of March 2007, scientists all over the world observed with surprise and awe a rare change in the atmosphere of Jupiter. A giant perturbation occurred amongst its clouds and two extremely bright storms erupted in the middle latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where its most intense jet stream - reaching speeds of 600 kilometers per hour – resides. Research into these unusual storms (previous ones had been seen in 1975 and 1990) and the reaction of the jet to them, undertaken by an international team coordinated by Agustín Sánchez-Lavega, from the Higher Technical School of Engineering of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), gives a more precise idea about the origin of these current flows and likewise can help to gain a better understanding of terrestrial meteorology.

Quite interesting. A what did they discover - well, let me quote the ScienceDaily article, as it explains it better than I could ever hope to do.

According to the study, the very bright storms are formed amongst the deepest clouds of water on the planet, rising vigorously and injecting a mixture of ice ammonia and water up to 30 km above the visible clouds. The storms move with the maximum velocity of the jet, - more than 600 kilometers per hour, creating disturbances and generating a stele of turbulence of reddish clouds that circle the whole planet. The infrared images show the brilliant festoons that make up the storms abandoning the jet stream to leeward.

Surprisingly, and despite the enormous amount of energy deposited by the storms and the mixture and whirlwinds generated thereby, the jet stream stayed practically still during all this perturbation and, when it was over, this stayed robust, despite the event suffered. The computer models simulating the progress of the phenomenon suggested that the jet stream goes deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere, to more than 100 km below the visible cloud level and where solar energy cannot reach.

This confirms the results previously obtained by the Galileo probe when it penetrated Jupiter’s atmosphere in December 1995. Although the regions studied are meteorologically different, everything points to Jupiter’s jet streams going very deep and suggests that the internal energy source plays an important role in its generation, states Mr Sánchez-Lavega

Quite fascination, though I am a little at lost of what it can tell us about our own planet's meteorology. Since it's way outside my field, I will take their words for it though.

The research is covered in the current issue of Nature, unfortunately behind a pay-wall. If you have access, it can be found here

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