An international team of astronomers has measured the winds of Jupiter’s middle atmosphere for the first time and have revealed that some of enormous power are unleashed near its poles, with speeds of up to 1,450 kilometers per hour, as reported this Thursday (03.18.2021 ) in a statement from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
“These winds could represent a unique meteorological beast in our Solar System,” explained the researchers, who used the ESO facilities in Atacama (northern Chile).
It is impossible to measure the wind speed in Jupiter’s stratosphere using the cloud tracking technique, due to the absence of clouds in this part of the atmosphere.
For this reason, astronomers on the mission have tracked down one of the molecules that emerged from the impact between Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and the gas giant in 1994, atoms that have been moving with the winds ever since.
“The most spectacular result is the presence of strong winds, with speeds of up to 400 meters per second, which are under the aurora, near the poles,” said the director of the mission, Thibault Cavalié.
These wind speeds, equivalent to about 1,450 kilometers per hour, are more than twice the maximum storm speeds reached at Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and more than three times the wind speed measured in the strongest tornadoes on Earth.
“Our detection indicates that these wind jets could behave like a giant vortex with a diameter of up to four times that of Earth and about 900 kilometers high,” explained co-author Bilal Benmahi.
Astronomers were aware of the strong winds near Jupiter’s poles, but in a much higher part of the atmosphere, hundreds of kilometers above the area in which the new study is focused.
These results open a new window for the study of the regions of Jupiter with auroras and also set the stage for similar, but more extensive measurements with the Icy Moons Explorer by JUpiter (Jupiter’s icy moons explorer) from the European Space Agency, which is expected to launch into space next year.
JU (efe, aanda.org, eurekalert.org, eso.org)