Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun, has always been a source of fascination for scientists and stargazers alike. With its characteristic bands of color and the Great Red Spot, Jupiter has long been a mystery. Scientists have been baffled by the movements and changes in these stripes, until now.
A team of researchers at the University of Leeds may have finally uncovered the secret behind Jupiter's stripes. Dr. Kumiko Hori and Professor Chris Jones used data gathered by NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter to monitor and calculate the changes in the planet's magnetic field. This information has allowed them to track the waves and oscillations of Jupiter's magnetic field, and even to follow a specific spot called the Great Blue Spot. Their research has shown that the changing appearance of Jupiter is somehow linked to infrared variations about 50km below the planet's surface, and that these variations could be caused by waves produced by Jupiter's magnetic field deep within its interior. As Professor Jones explains, "It is possible to get wavelike motions in a planetary magnetic field which are called torsional oscillations. The exciting thing is that when we calculated the periods of these torsional oscillations, they corresponded to the periods that you see in the infrared radiation on Jupiter."
What's more, the team has produced an explanation for the long-running mystery of Jupiter's changing bands and stripes, filling in the missing link between scientists interested in the planet's weather and those working on the deep interior. But there's still more to uncover. As Dr. Hori notes, "There remain uncertainties and questions, particularly how exactly the torsional oscillation produces the observed infrared variation, which likely reflects the complex dynamics and cloud/aerosol reactions. Those need more research."
Nonetheless, this discovery could open a window to probe the hidden deep interior of Jupiter, much like seismology does for the Earth and helioseismology does for the Sun. For Professor Jones, this is the culmination of a lifelong passion for Jupiter. "I am incredibly pleased that NASA finally managed to get to see Jupiter's magnetic field in detail," he says. "I have been studying Jupiter for an exceptionally long time and I got interested in what lies below the surface of Jupiter when I was a child – it has been a 60-year progression." Jupiter's stripes may no longer be a mystery, but with this new discovery, there's no telling what other mysteries could be lurking deep within the gas giant.