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Scientists Intrigued by Jet Inside Jupiter

Big Blue

Jupiter is iconic, with its swirls of water and ammonia vapor that characterize its outer surface and its distinctive Giant Red Spot, a gigantic storm raging across its face.

But its mysteries abound — such as Jupiter's strange and asymmetrical magnetic field, which has a strong area of magnetism in its equator called the "Great Blue Spot" — blue because that's how it's color-coded in maps tracing the magnetic field.

In an effort to understand the planet's magnetic field better, a team of American scientists from Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology, NASA and the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas studied an atmospheric jet — a high speed current in the gas giant's atmosphere — in the Great Blue Spot. Their finding? It's a dynamic system that fluctuates every four years or so.

Larger Mysteries

The scientists detailed their findings in a new paper published in the science journal Nature. The analysis is based on data gathered by NASA's Juno probe which has been observing and gathering information on the gaseous giant since 2016.

Because this jet, which seems to drive the Great Blue Spot, fluctuates every four years, scientists think this means that there's fluctuating wave behavior in the planet's hydrogen interior.

"Planetary magnetic fields provide a window into the otherwise largely inaccessible dynamics of a planet’s deep interior," the scientists write.

More data from Juno may resolve in further detail the specific type of wave and how it all works while it interacts with the planet's magnetic field.

Other discoveries from Juno have yielded a fuller picture of Jupiter's atmosphere along with stunning images of its auroras and its moons such as Europa, Ganymede and Io.

Juno is now on an extended mission to capture more data, which should lead to us knowing better the biggest planet in our neighborhood.

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