Astronomers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Australian National University may have finally uncovered the mystery behind Jupiter’s brightly colored bands, a new study in the Astrophysical Journal reports.
Jupiter is unique because, unlike many planets, it has no solid surface. Rather, it is completely made up of gas.
As a part of that, its upper atmosphere has several strong jet streams that carry clouds of different elements across the planet. That process then creates colored bands that range from shades of red and orange to brown and yellow.
While scientists have long postulated on how Jupiter’s jets form and how they move beneath the clouds, they have never been able to observe the phenomena until now.
“We know a lot about the jet streams in Earth’s atmosphere and the key role they play in the weather and climate, but we still have a lot to learn about Jupiter’s atmosphere,” said lead author Navid Constantinou, a researcher from the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences, according to Newsweek. “Scientists have long debated how deep the jet streams reach beneath the surfaces of Jupiter and other gas giants, and why they do not appear in the Sun’s interior.”
To take a close look at that mystery, the team behind the research analyzed data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. That then showed the jet streams dip down at least 1,800 miles below the clouds.
Using that data in combination with a mathematical model, the team predicts the jets can become suppressed if magnetic fields ever get strong enough. That would then explain why the streams can only penetrate so far.
This new finding is important because, not only does it provide insight into the planet, but it helps further research about gas giants in general.
“There are no continents and mountains below Jupiter’s atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams,” said study co-author Jeffrey Parker, a researcher at the Livermore National Laboratory, according to Phys.org. “This makes the jet streams on Jupiter simpler. By studying Jupiter, not only do we unravel the mysteries in the interior of the gas giant, but we can also use Jupiter as a laboratory for studying how atmospheric flows work in general.”