Jupiter’s skies are peppered with electron streams, ammonia plumes, and massive storms

Scientists have long known that Jupiter is a stormy place. But since NASA’s Juno probe reached the solar system’s largest planet last July, they’ve found it to be a far more tempestuous place than they realized. The first-ever detailed look at Jupiter’s polar regions—captured during Juno’s first orbit last August—reveals chaotic swirls of storms, some measuring up to 1400 kilometers across, researchers report today in Science. The study also shows that Jupiter’s equator is home to a broad plume of ammonia rising from deep layers of the atmosphere, a “striking and unexpected” feature found by beaming microwaves into the jovian atmosphere, the researchers say. Other data indicate that Jupiter’s magnetic field is nearly 50% stronger than previously suspected in some places, hinting that the movement of electrically charged particles deep in the planet’s atmosphere may rise closer to the cloudtops than previously presumed. Other electrically charged particles power Jupiter’s polar auroras. But unlike those on Earth—which are fueled by particles streaming in from space—Jupiter’s polar auroras are powered by streams of electrons rising from deep within the planet’s atmosphere, reports another study published today in Science. One of Juno’s next targets: Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot, scheduled to get its close flyby in July.