NASA Study Reveals Unexpected Changes in Jupiter’s Weather Patterns
A study that has been conducted over four decades using NASA spacecraft has discovered unexpected changes in the weather patterns on Jupiter. The study, which is the longest of its kind to record temperatures in Jupiter’s lower atmosphere, was conducted by NASA.
The research conducted by NASA on Jupiter’s atmosphere involved studying the planet’s lower atmosphere, known as the troposphere, which is similar to Earth’s in that it is where most of the planet’s weather occurs. To study the troposphere, scientists looked at the infrared light emitted by Jupiter, which is brighter in areas with higher temperatures in the atmosphere. The study, which began in 1978, was conducted over a period of four decades, allowing researchers to eliminate any potential seasonal effects. This is in contrast to previous studies of Jupiter’s atmosphere, which were typically shorter in duration, often less than the planet’s 12-year orbit. The research has been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
According to co-author Leigh Fletcher, a professor of planetary sciences at the University of Leicester, the goal of the study was to understand the temperature changes and patterns in Jupiter’s atmosphere over time in order to eventually be able to predict the weather on the planet. Fletcher also noted that the research could potentially be extended to other giant planets to see if similar patterns emerge. In a NASA press release, Fletcher stated, “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. And the even bigger-picture question is if we can someday extend this to other giant planets to see if similar patterns show up.”
One of the main discoveries of the research team was that temperatures at Jupiter’s mid-latitudes follow a regular pattern of warming and cooling, but these fluctuations are not likely caused by seasons. On Earth, the changing seasons are caused by the planet’s axial tilt of 23.5 degrees, but Jupiter’s axis is only tilted by about 3 degrees, which means that it does not experience strong seasons like Earth does. This lack of seasonality means that the variations in temperature observed at Jupiter’s mid-latitudes must be caused by other factors.
The researchers also observed a relationship between the temperatures of areas that are thousands of miles apart on Jupiter. When certain latitudes in the northern hemisphere warmed up, the corresponding latitudes in the southern hemisphere cooled down. This finding was described by Glenn Orton, the lead author of the study and a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as “the most surprising of all” in a NASA release.
Orton stated, “We found a connection between how the temperatures varied at very distant latitudes. 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.” The researchers will now focus on understanding the mechanisms behind these mysterious temperature fluctuations.
Leigh Fletcher, one of the co-authors of the study, remarked, “We’ve solved one part of the puzzle now, which is that the atmosphere shows these natural cycles. To understand what’s driving these patterns and why they occur on these particular timescales, we need to explore both above and below the cloudy layers.” The researchers will therefore need to study not only the visible clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere, but also the deeper layers below the clouds in order to understand the forces that are driving the observed temperature patterns.
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