During the 22nd flyby of NASA‘s Juno spacecraft, the probe discovered a new cyclone on the Jupiter’s south pole. The flyby, which took place Nov. 3, soared just 2,175 miles above the planet to collect data.
The new cyclone is about the size of Texas but smaller than the others. Future flyby data could show it getting bigger.
Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said, “We realized that the orbit was going to carry Juno into Jupiter’s shadow, which could have grave consequences because we’re solar powered. No sunlight means no power, so there was a real risk we might freeze to death.”
“While the team was trying to figure out how to conserve energy and keep our core heated, the engineers came up with a completely new way out of the problem: Jump Jupiter’s shadow. It was nothing less than a navigation stroke of genius. Lo and behold, the first thing out of the gate on the other side, we make another fundamental discovery.”
The data from the JIRAM suggests that the cyclone’s wind speeds average of 225 mph. The camera on the spacecraft also obtained visible-light imagery of the new cyclone. The datasets highlight atmospheric processes of not just Jupiter but also fellow gas giants Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune as well as those of giant exoplanets now being discovered; they even shed light on atmospheric processes of Earth‘s cyclones.
The Juno spacecraft was launched in 2011 and entered orbit around Jupiter in 2016. Orbiting Jupiter since 2016, Juno’s mission is to understand how Jupiter formed and evolved.
One of Juno’s first discoveries in 2016 was a series of enormous storms arranged in a pentagon around Jupiter’s south pole, with five cyclones surrounding a central one. Now, the mission has spotted a new storm that joined the fray, creating a hexagonal array of storms around the planet’s south pole. It’s the sixth in what’s now a hexagonal array of cyclones surrounding one central storm at the pole.