According to a new study published in Nature Astronomy, the atmosphere of Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, experienced strange weather patterns, including between warm and cold periods during the planet's year (equivalent to 12 Earth years). The study is based on data collected from 40 years of research, using spacecraft and ground-based telescopes.
According to Space.com, seasonal changes on Jupiter are not the same as on Earth. Weather transitions on our planet from winter to fall are caused by the degree of inclination of the planet's axis to the plane in which it orbits the Sun. Because of this 23-degree tilt, different parts of the globe receive different amounts of sunlight during the year.
The tilt of Jupiter's axis is only three degrees, which means that the amount of sunlight reaching different parts of Jupiter's surface is virtually the same throughout the year on this planet. The new study shows that periodic temperature changes in Jupiter's cloudy atmosphere do occur.
“We’ve solved one part of the puzzle now, which is that the atmosphere shows these natural cycles. To understand what’s driving these patterns and why they occur on these particular timescales, we need to explore both above and below the cloudy layers,” said Leigh Fletcher, an astronomer at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and co-author of the new study.
A team of scientists has found indications that these temperature changes may be related to a phenomenon known in science as teleconnection. They describe periodic changes in the planet's atmospheric system occurring simultaneously in seemingly unrelated parts of the globe that may be thousands of kilometers apart.
This phenomenon has been observed in Earth's atmosphere since the 19th century, especially known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wind changes in the western Pacific during these phenomena correspond to changes in precipitation across much of North America. In the new study, scientists found that when temperatures on Jupiter rise at certain latitudes in the northern hemisphere, they fall at the same latitudes in the southern hemisphere.
“That was the most surprising of all,” said Glenn Orton, senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead author of the study. “We found a connection between how the temperatures varied at very distant latitudes. It’s similar to a phenomenon we see on Earth, where weather and climate patterns in one region can have a noticeable influence on weather elsewhere, with the patterns of variability seemingly ‘teleconnected’ across vast distances through the atmosphere.”
Studies have also shown that as temperatures rise in the stratosphere, the upper layer of Jupiter's atmosphere, they drop in the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere where weather events occur, including Jupiter's powerful storms.
For this study, scientists looked at data collected after 1978, including data from powerful ground-based telescopes such as the Very Large Telescope (Chile), the NASA Infrared Telescope and the Subaru Telescope, as well as data from such spacecraft as Voyager, which flew past Jupiter in 1979, and the Cassini mission, which flew past Jupiter in 2001 while studying Saturn.
“Measuring these temperature changes and periods over time is a step toward ultimately having a full-on Jupiter weather forecast, if we can connect cause and effect in Jupiter’s atmosphere,” Fletcher said. “And the even bigger-picture question is if we can someday extend this to other giant planets to see if similar patterns show up.”
Scientists have previously known that Jupiter's atmosphere has cooler areas that look lighter in the images and warmer areas that look like brown streaks. The new study, which covers three years of Jupiter, shows for the first time how these patterns change over longer periods of time.