40-year study explains the mysterious happenings in Jupiter's atmosphere
Scientists have found "unexpected" weather patterns on Jupiter after monitoring its atmosphere with spacecraft and ground-based telescopes for four decades. The giant planet has a 3-degree tilt, which means that there is hardly any change in the amount of sunlight it receives throughout the year, but researchers have discovered that the planet undergoes periodic temperature cycles.
Why does this story matter?
- The study started in 1978 and some of the largest telescopes in the world including the Very Large Telescope in Chile, NASA's infrared Telescope Facility, and Subaru Telescope at the Mauna Kea Observatories in Hawaii have been utilized.
- Research of this kind can contribute to climate modeling, including for similar giant planets in our solar system and beyond.
Light and dark bands correspond to different temperatures on Jupiter
Scientists have known, since NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11 missions in the 1970s, that lighter and whiter bands (called zones) on Jupiter are associated with colder temperatures while darker brown-red bands (known as belts) indicate warmer temperatures. By means of the study, the researchers have for the first time been able to understand how these patterns change over long periods of time.
Data was collected as Jupiter orbited the Sun
Researchers examined images of the bright infrared glow from the warmer regions of Jupiter's atmosphere to directly measure the temperature above the planet's clouds. This study has been published in Nature Astronomy. The images were collected at regular intervals over three of Jupiter's orbits around the Sun. Each orbit done by Jupiter lasts 12 Earth years.
A pattern in rise and fall in temperatures was observed
The study also revealed that as temperatures shot up at specific latitudes in the northern hemisphere, the same latitudes in the southern hemisphere cooled down - almost like a mirror image across the equator. It was also found that when temperatures rise in the stratosphere, the upper layer of Jupiter's atmosphere, they fall in the troposphere, the lowest atmospheric layer where weather events occur.
Temperature variations across different latitudes on Jupiter are interconnected
"We found a connection between how the temperatures varied at very distant latitudes," said Glenn Orton, lead author of the study. "It's similar to a phenomenon we see on Earth, where weather and climate patterns in one region can have a noticeable influence on weather elsewhere, with the patterns of variability seemingly 'teleconnected' across vast distances through the atmosphere."
What are teleconnections?
Teleconnections describe how atmospheric or oceanic circulation changes occurring at one location can have an effect on other regions, even if they lie far apart. It has also been observed in the Earth's atmosphere and is called La Nina - El Nino cycle, during which changes in the trade winds of the western Pacific Ocean affect rainfall rates across the majority of North America.
Such studies can help predict the weather on Jupiter
"Measuring these temperature changes and periods over time is a step toward ultimately having a full-on Jupiter weather forecast if we can connect cause and effect in Jupiter's atmosphere," said Leigh Fletcher, co-author of the study. "And the even bigger-picture question is if we can someday extend this to other giant planets to see if similar patterns show up."