The spirals and vortices of Jupiter and Saturn may seem mesmerizing, but they are stormy storms that are out of this world literally and otherwise. Nothing like this happens on Earth.
The raging storms on these gas giants were thought to come from the lower atmosphere, just like those on our planet until now. New research suggests that these extraterrestrial storms are likely driven by deeper internal forces, rather than by external forces that feed storms just above the Earth’s surface. Simulations of Jupiter and Saturn show that their meteorological systems, from cyclones and anticyclones to jets and magnetic jets, are mostly caused by violent internal processes.
The large red spot on Jupiter, which is thought to have formed when the planet̵
“By modeling the dominant dynamic characteristics present on the surface of Jupiter and Saturn, namely zonal jet streams and storms, we can learn about what drives them and their connection to the deep planetary interior,” said Rakesh Kumar Yadav, who heads study published recently in Scientific progress.
Jupiter and Saturn have more storms than just the Great Red Spot and Saturn’s hexagonal storm, which have attracted the most attention. One of the last things Cassini aired before disappearing forever into Saturn’s atmosphere was gravitational data, and this, along with data from the Juneau mission, helped Yadav’s team determine that the jets on both planets should sink to depth thousands of miles. This has raised questions about whether some of the weird vortices that can be seen on these planets are caused by convection, which occurs far below the surface.
To understand how storms can be born in the bowels of these planets, the research team modeled the so-called “thin shell” and “thick shell” simulations. Both approaches have gone further than just assuming where meteorological systems appear. Each type of simulation is taken into account in fast convection, which causes turbulence in planet-shaped spherical shells that are programmed to rotate just like the planets they simulate.
In these gas giants, convection occurs, as on Earth, through a warmer, less dense gas that rises and a colder, denser sinking gas. Although only gas is involved here, technically this can happen to any liquid or substance that can flow and change shape when a force of change acts on it.
The thin body studies what happens in the convection layers in the upper atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn. Turbulence occurs between darker atmospheric bands or belts in which cooler gas sinks and lighter bands known as areas where warmer gas rises. The “thin shell” simulation generates cyclones, anticyclones such as those thought to give rise to the Great Red Spot, and zones and belts also known as zonal jets of gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn.
Now for the really hard stuff. The dynamo of the planet generates its magnetic field from deep. The Earth’s dynamo is a continuously flowing liquid iron in the outer core (outside the inner core of the solid iron) and electric currents are created when electrons flow with it and this energy is transformed into a magnetic field. This is why planets with magnetic fields are thought to have metal cores. The “thick shell” simulation recreated the way in which the hydrodynamic layers of gas giants, which behave like liquids, interact with their magnetic fields. This caused convection deep in the magnetic field, which caused it to vomit jets into space. Wherever there was higher magnetic energy, it created more anticyclones.
There are some differences between the planets. Saturn has a more turbid atmosphere, so the dynamics of the fluids behind its storms are more similar to each other than to Jupiter. This may be due to the fact that the denser atmosphere makes it difficult to determine whether the gases are rotating around. It seems that Saturn does not have so many anticyclones.
The next time you look at the hypnotic vortices of Saturn and Jupiter, remember that there is a beast behind the beauty.