LIFE

Study helps solve mystery underlying Jupiter's coloured bands

The mystery underlying Jupiter's coloured bands has been tackled in a new study on the interaction between atmospheres and magnetic fields.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System, is gaseous, made up mostly of hydrogen and helium, and has no solid surface like the Earth.

Similar to Earth's jet stream, which plays a key role in the weather and climate systems, several strong jet streams flow west to east in Jupiter's atmosphere and carry along clouds of ammonia to form the coloured bands in shades of white, red, orange, brown and yellow.

Until recently little was known about what happened below Jupiter's clouds.

"Scientists have long debated how deep the jet streams reach beneath the surfaces of Jupiter and other gas giants, and why they do not appear in the sun's interior," lead researcher Navid Constantinou from the Australian National University said.

Recent evidence from NASA's spacecraft Juno indicates these jet streams reach as deep as 3,000 kilometres below Jupiter's clouds, the researchers said in a statement.

Jeffrey Parker, the study's co-researcher from Livermore National Laboratory in the United States, said their theory showed that jet streams were suppressed by a strong magnetic field.

"The gas in the interior of Jupiter is magnetized, so we think our new theory explains why the jet streams go as deep as they do under the gas giant's surface but don't go any deeper," Parker said.

"There are no continents and mountains below Jupiter's atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams," Parker said.

The research was published in The Astrophysical Journal on Wednesday.

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