Clusters of cyclones encircling Jupiter’s poles

Abstract

The familiar axisymmetric zones and belts that characterize Jupiter’s weather system at lower latitudes give way to pervasive cyclonic activity at higher latitudes1. Two-dimensional turbulence in combination with the Coriolis β-effect (that is, the large meridionally varying Coriolis force on the giant planets of the Solar System) produces alternating zonal flows2. The zonal flows weaken with rising latitude so that a transition between equatorial jets and polar turbulence on Jupiter can occur3,4. Simulations with shallow-water models of giant planets support this transition by producing both alternating flows near the equator and circumpolar cyclones near the poles5,6,7,8,9. Jovian polar regions are not visible from Earth owing to Jupiter’s low axial tilt, and were poorly characterized by previous missions because the trajectories of these missions did not venture far from Jupiter’s equatorial plane. Here we report that visible and infrared images obtained from above each pole by the Juno spacecraft during its first five orbits reveal persistent polygonal patterns of large cyclones. In the north, eight circumpolar cyclones are observed about a single polar cyclone; in the south, one polar cyclone is encircled by five circumpolar cyclones. Cyclonic circulation is established via time-lapse imagery obtained over intervals ranging from 20 minutes to 4 hours. Although migration of cyclones towards the pole might be expected as a consequence of the Coriolis β-effect, by which cyclonic vortices naturally drift towards the rotational pole, the configuration of the cyclones is without precedent on other planets (including Saturn’s polar hexagonal features). The manner in which the cyclones persist without merging and the process by which they evolve to their current configuration are unknown.

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Figure 1: The poles of Jupiter as they appear at visible and infrared wavelengths.
Figure 2: The poles observed by JunoCam during the first four passes at Jupiter.
Figure 3: High-resolution view of the polar vortices.

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Acknowledgements

The JIRAM project is founded by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). In particular this work has been developed under the ASI-INAF agreement number 2016-23-H.0. The JunoCam instrument and its operations are funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. A portion of this work was supported by NASA funds to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to the California Institute of Technology, and to the Southwest Research Institute. A.P.I. was supported by NASA funds to the Juno project and by NSF grant number 1411952.

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Contributions

A.A. and C.H. are the Juno mission instrument leads for the JIRAM and JunoCam instruments, respectively, and they planned and implemented the observations discussed in this paper. S.J.B. and J.E.P.C. are respectively the principal and the deputy responsible for the Juno mission. A.A., A. Mura, G.O., J.R., A.I. and F.T.-V. were responsible for writing substantial parts of the paper. M.E.O’N. helped with the interpretation of the cyclonic structure. A. Mura, F.A., M.L.M. and D.G. were responsible for reduction and measurement of the JIRAM data and their rendering into graphical formats. G.E., T.M., G.O. and J.R. were responsible for the same tasks for JunoCam data. F.T.-V. and F.F. were responsible for the geometric calibration of the JIRAM data. G.F., G.S., B.M.D. and S.S. were responsible for the JIRAM data radiance calibrations. A.C., R.N. and R.S. were responsible for the JIRAM ground segment. S.K.A., J.I.L., A. Migliorini, D.T, G.P. and D.T. supervised the work. C.P., A.O. and M.A. were responsible for the JIRAM project from the Italian Space Agency side.

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Correspondence to A. Adriani.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Comparison of the polar cyclonic structures between PJ4 and PJ5.

Here is the comparison between JIRAM 5-μm data acquired during PJ4 and PJ5. The letters identify possible recurrent structures and arrows show the suggested displacements that occurred in the 53-day interval between these two perijoves. The radiance scale is the same as in Fig. 1. When the region surrounding the north pole is not sunlit, there are no JunoCam observations of the NPC. Although the north pole was detected by JIRAM on PJ4, we were unable to determine whether or not it maintains a stable position over the geographic north pole because of insufficient coverage of the NPC during PJ5. However, the cyclonic structures A, B and C move northeast, migrating from the lower latitudes. The G and H internal structures, located between the NPC and the cyclones, are anticyclones and move westward in that narrow corridor between 85.5° N and 87° N to their new location observed during PJ5 between vortex D and the NPC. In contrast, JIRAM was able to observe the SPC in both PJ4 and PJ5. In fact, along with the cyclones G and H shown, the SPC moves northward, increasing its distance with respect to the geographic south pole by 1.5° between PJ4 and PJ5. On the other hand, JunoCam was able to observe the SPC at all perijoves, and found that it was always displaced from the south pole in approximately the same direction (towards a System III longitude of about 219° ± 21°), with its central latitude varying from 88.0° S at PJ1 up to 89.0° S at PJ4, and down to 88.4° S at PJ5. It remains to be seen whether this is a cyclic oscillation. The five cyclones remain at almost constant radial distances from the centre of the SPC (and thus not from the geographic south pole), so the whole pentagon drifts in latitude. Anticyclone A appears to move as much as about 1° south and about 24° east. It is forced and surrounded by the two cyclonic structures that consolidate themselves between PJ4 and PJ5 from the origins L, J, C and K. Finally, the anticyclone D disappears while F is expelled from its position and possibly moves to new position E.

Extended Data Figure 2 Annotated version of the JunoCam images of the poles.

The unannotated version is shown in Fig. 2. The composite components from each perijove pass that were used to create the figure are noted. Each corresponds to the polar image taken at a time that minimized the emission angle over most of the pole, as detailed in Extended Data Table 2. The PJ4 component is identical to its contribution in Fig. 1, with contributions from the other perijove passes, separated by approximately 90° in longitude, as noted. The northern cyclones forming the inner square (actually a rhombus) of the ditetragonal pattern are labelled by odd numbers and those forming the outer square by even numbers. The southern cyclones forming a quasi-pentagonal shape are numbered sequentially, with the largest spacing between cyclones labelled 1 and 5, indicated by the ‘gap’ label. Despite the time differences of 53 to 106 terrestrial days between JIRAM images acquired on PJ4, shown broadly in Fig. 1b and d, and JunoCam images in PJ1, PJ3 and PJ5, the positions of the cyclones are remarkably consistent in System III longitude.

Extended Data Table 1 JIRAM start time, stop time and number of observations for the different datasets used for this study
Extended Data Table 2 Details of the JunoCam observations

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This zipped file contains 9 videos for the North Pole (8 CPC, plus the NPC); each video is made of 11 images. It also contains 6 videos for the South Pole (5 CPC, plus the SPC); each video is made of 6 images. References are to Figure 1. 0°W in System III is positioned on the right centre of the images. Both Poles are seen from above, namely, progressing counter clockwise you move towards east in the North and towards west in the South. For the North Pole videos, north0.avi.mp4 is the North Polar Cyclone, north1.avi.mp4 is the cyclone at 0°W and for the other videos north[X].avi.mp4, the numbering [X=2 to 8] proceeds counter clockwise. For the South Pole videos, south0.avi.mp4 is the South Polar Cyclone, south1.avi.mp4 is the cyclone at 150°W and for the other videos south [X].avi.mp4, the numbering [X=2 to 5] proceeds counterclockwise. (ZIP 11167 kb)

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Adriani, A., Mura, A., Orton, G. et al. Clusters of cyclones encircling Jupiter’s poles. Nature 555, 216–219 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature25491

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