Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

It Pays to Nail Down Lawnchairs on Jupiter

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

It Pays to Nail Down Lawnchairs on Jupiter

Article excerpt

On any given day, the winds on Jupiter blow 400 miles per hour - four times the speed of an average earthly hurricane. Nor is that all: Storms on the swirl-shrouded planet can last 300 years.

For more than a century, scientists have puzzled over what drives Jupiter's headstrong weather. Now an hour's worth of signals from a tiny space probe is solving what has been one of the solar system's great meteorological mysteries.

The latest results from the study of data sent back by the Galileo probe, which plunged into the planet's atmosphere on Dec. 7, show that Jupiter's spectacular wind stream and colorful circulation features such as the Great Red Spot are deeply rooted in the planet's interior.

Some astronomers have speculated that solar heating of a thin atmospheric region powered Jupiter's weather just as it powers weather on Earth. But the probe's 10,000-mile plunge took it well below the level of any possible solar influence. And the deeper it went, the stronger the winds blew.

"This shifts our whole thinking toward the idea that ... Jupiter's whole fluid interior is in motion just as rapidly as the winds at the surface," says meteorologist Andrew Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

This means that, unlike earthly weather, Jupiter's meteorology is driven by the planet's own internal heat. Jupiter radiates 1.7 times more energy into space than it absorbs from the sun. That extra 70 percent is heat released as the planet continues the long cool-down from its formation 4.5 billion years ago.

Much of that primordial heat is concentrated in the planet's core. The deep fluid layers overlying the core are like a pot of water with a flame underneath. This heating from below powers a system of deep convention currents that, in turn, drive the planet's winds and storms.

Commenting on this finding as reported during the spring meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Dr. …

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