Astronomers Crack The Secret Of Jupiter’s Colorful Cloud Bands

Jupiter has mesmerizing clouds. First spotted by Galileo 400 years ago, the Jovian clouds traverse the gas giant in vividly colorful bands, one of the most famous of them being the North Temperate Belt — a cyclonic red-orange band that spins around the planet in the northern hemisphere, the Inquisitr previously reported.

But how Jupiter got its stripes has always been a mystery. What we do know is that they’re formed by clouds of ammonia gathered in Jupiter’s outer atmosphere and which get pushed along by several jet streams flowing west to eat around the planet.

In some ways, Jupiter’s jet streams are similar to those circling our own planet and which have a vital role in shaping Earth’s weather. But unlike Earth’s jet streams, the Jovian ones are straight, clearly defined, and run much deeper into the planet.

Data from NASA’s Juno mission recently uncovered that Jupiter’s jet streams reach as deep as 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) below the top clouds, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced earlier this year. Moreover, Jupiter’s atmosphere weighs about 1 percent of its mass, whereas on Earth the atmosphere is less than one-millionth of the planet’s mass.

To find out what drives Jupiter’s stripes into such neatly arranged rows, a new study took a peek under the planet’s colorful cloud bands and finally unlocked the puzzle, reports the Australian National University (ANU).

“Scientists have long debated how deep the jet streams reach beneath the surfaces of Jupiter and other gas giants, and why they do not appear in the sun’s interior,” said Dr. Navid Constantinou, one of the study’s two authors and a scientist at the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

By using both theoretical predictions and the findings from previous computer simulations, Constantinou and Dr. Jeffrey Parker of Livermore National Laboratory in California found out that the Jovian jet streams are kept in place by a strong magnetic field, which stops them from plunging deeper into the gaseous planet.

“The gas in the interior of Jupiter is magnetized, so we think our new theory explains why the jet streams go as deep as they do under the gas giant’s surface but don’t go any deeper,” said Parker.

Another thing that makes the Jovian cloud bands so “stripy” is that the jet streams are able to flow straight and uninhibited since Jupiter doesn’t have continents and high mountain peaks like Earth.

“There are no continents and mountains below Jupiter’s atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams,” explains Parker.

Meanwhile, our planet’s geography makes Earth’s jet streams wavy and irregular, whereas those on Jupiter are a lot simpler, notes ANU.

Commenting on the results, Parker pointed out that the stunning cloud bands of Jupiter — which showcase a multitude of colors, from red to orange, brown, yellow, and white — can help us learn more about atmospheric flows.

“By studying Jupiter, not only do we unravel the mysteries in the interior of the gas giant, but we can also use Jupiter as a laboratory for studying how atmospheric flows work in general.”