Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

'Hot Spots' Ride a Merry-Go-Round on Jupiter

15.03.2013
In the swirling canopy of Jupiter's atmosphere, cloudless patches are so exceptional that the big ones get the special name "hot spots."

Exactly how these clearings form and why they're only found near the planet’s equator have long been mysteries. Now, using images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, scientists have found new evidence that hot spots in Jupiter's atmosphere are created by a Rossby wave, a pattern also seen in Earth's atmosphere and oceans. The team found the wave responsible for the hot spots glides up and down through layers of the atmosphere like a carousel horse on a merry-go-round.

"This is the first time anybody has closely tracked the shape of multiple hot spots over a period of time, which is the best way to appreciate the dynamic nature of these features," said the study's lead author, David Choi, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The paper is published online in the April issue of the journal Icarus.

Choi and his colleagues made time-lapse movies from hundreds of observations taken by Cassini during its flyby of Jupiter in late 2000, when the spacecraft made its closest approach to the planet. The movies zoom in on a line of hot spots between one of Jupiter's dark belts and bright white zones, roughly 7 degrees north of the equator. Covering about two months (in Earth time), the study examines the daily and weekly changes in the sizes and shapes of the hot spots, each of which covers more area than North America, on average.

Much of what scientists know about hot spots came from NASA's Galileo mission, which released an atmospheric probe that descended into a hot spot in 1995. This was the first, and so far only, in-situ investigation of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

"Galileo's probe data and a handful of orbiter images hinted at the complex winds swirling around and through these hot spots, and raised questions about whether they fundamentally were waves, cyclones or something in between," said Ashwin Vasavada, a paper co-author who is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and who was a member of the Cassini imaging team during the Jupiter flyby. "Cassini's fantastic movies now show the entire life cycle and evolution of hot spots in great detail."

Because hot spots are breaks in the clouds, they provide windows into a normally unseen layer of Jupiter's atmosphere, possibly all the way down to the level where water clouds can form. In pictures, hot spots appear shadowy, but because the deeper layers are warmer, hot spots are very bright at the infrared wavelengths where heat is sensed; in fact, this is how they got their name.

One hypothesis is that hot spots occur when big drafts of air sink in the atmosphere and get heated or dried out in the process. But the surprising regularity of hot spots has led some researchers to suspect there is an atmospheric wave involved. Typically, eight to 10 hot spots line up, roughly evenly spaced, with dense white plumes of cloud in between. This pattern could be explained by a wave that pushes cold air down, breaking up any clouds, and then carries warm air up, causing the heavy cloud cover seen in the plumes. Computer modeling has strengthened this line of reasoning.

From the Cassini movies, the researchers mapped the winds in and around each hot spot and plume, and examined interactions with vortices that pass by, in addition to wind gyres, or spiraling vortices, that merge with the hot spots. To separate these motions from the jet stream in which the hot spots reside, the scientists also tracked the movements of small "scooter" clouds, similar to cirrus clouds on Earth. This provided what may be the first direct measurement of the true wind speed of the jet stream, which was clocked at about 300 to 450 mph (500 to 720 kilometers per hour) -- much faster than anyone previously thought. The hot spots amble at the more leisurely pace of about 225 mph (362 kilometers per hour).

By teasing out these individual movements, the researchers saw that the motions of the hot spots fit the pattern of a Rossby wave in the atmosphere. On Earth, Rossby waves play a major role in weather. For example, when a blast of frigid Arctic air suddenly dips down and freezes Florida's crops, a Rossby wave is interacting with the polar jet stream and sending it off its typical course. The wave travels around our planet but periodically wanders north and south as it goes.

The wave responsible for the hot spots also circles the planet west to east, but instead of wandering north and south, it glides up and down in the atmosphere. The researchers estimate this wave may rise and fall 15 to 30 miles (24 to 50 kilometers) in altitude.

The new findings should help researchers understand how well the observations returned by the Galileo probe extend to the rest of Jupiter's atmosphere. "And that is another step in answering more of the questions that still surround hot spots on Jupiter," said Choi.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Jia-Rui Cook 818-354-0850
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
jccook@jpl.nasa.gov
Elizabeth Zubritsky 301-614-5438
Goddard Space Flight, Center, Greenbelt, Md.
elizabeth.a.zubritsky@nasa.gov

Elizabeth Zubritsky | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/whycassini/cassini20130314.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>