The spirals and swirls on Jupiter and Saturn may look enchanting, but they are turbulent storms that are literally out of this world anyway. Nothing similar happens on Earth.
Furious storms on these gas giants were thought to emanate from the lower atmosphere, just like those on our planet – until now. New research suggests that these extraterrestrial storms are likely to be driven by deeper internal forces rather than external forces that trigger storms just above the Earth’s surface. Simulations of Jupiter and Saturn have shown that their time systems, from cyclones and anticyclones to nozzles and magnetic flags, are mainly caused by violent internal processes.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, thought to have formed when the planet’s internal dynamometer generated by the planet’s magnetic field triggered huge anticyclones — systems in high-pressure areas where air sinks and without clouds or rain — is just one of those phenomena.
“By modeling the dominant dynamic features 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 led the study recently published in Scientific progress.
More storms are brewing on Jupiter and Saturn than just the Great Red Spot and Saturn’s hexagonal storm, which have attracted the most attention. One of the last things Cassini returned before disappearing forever into Saturn’s atmosphere was gravitational data, and that, along with data from the Juno mission, helped Yadav’s team determine that jet streams on both planets must dive thousands of miles deep. This has led to the question of whether some of the storm vortices that can be seen on these planets spawn from convection that occurs far below the surface.
To find out how storms could be born in the bowels of these planets, a research team modeled simulations of “thin shells” and “thick shells”. Both of these approaches went beyond the mere assumption of the location of time systems. Each type of simulation is taken into account in the fast convection that causes turbulence in spherical shells in the form of planets that are programmed to rotate just like the planets they simulated.
On these gas giants convection, like on Earth, is brought about by warmer, less dense gas that grows and colder, denser sinks. Although only gas is included here, technically this can happen with any liquid or substance that can flow and change shape when a changing force acts on it.
The thin-shell case investigated what happens in convection layers in the upper atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn. Turbulence occurs between darker atmospheric zones or zones in which colder gas sinks and lighter zones known as zones in which warmer gas grows. The “thin shell” simulation generated cyclones, anticyclones like those thought to create the Great Red Spot, and zones and belts also known as zone jets on gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn.
Now for really hard stuff. Dinamo’s planet creates its own magnetic field from within. The Earth’s dynamo is a liquid iron that flows continuously in the outer core (outside the inner core of solid iron), and electric currents are generated as electrons flow with it, and that energy passes into a magnetic field. Therefore, planets with magnetic fields are believed to have metal cores. The “thick shell” simulation has created a way for the hydrodynamic layers of gas giants, which behave like liquids, to communicate with their magnetic fields. This resulted in convection deep inside the magnetic field causing it to vomit feathers into space. Wherever there was more magnetic energy, it also generated more anticyclones.
There are some differences between the planets. Saturn has a more murky atmosphere, so the fluid dynamics behind its storms are more similar to each other than Jupiter’s. This could be because the denser atmosphere makes it difficult to determine if gases are spinning around. Not so many anticyclones seem to be happening on Saturn either.
The next time you see the hypnotic vortices of Saturn and Jupiter, remember that behind the beauty stands a beast.