NASA’s Juno Navigators Enable Jupiter Cyclone Discovery

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Dec. 12, 2019

NASA’s Juno Navigators Enable Jupiter Cyclone Discovery

Infrared image of Jupiter

A new, smaller cyclone can be seen at the lower right of this infrared image of Jupiter’s south pole taken on Nov. 4, 2019, during the 23rd science pass of the planet by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.


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See Jupiter’s cyclones through JIRAM’s infrared eyes

Watch a computer simulation of merging cyclones at Jupiter’s south pole

Here’s what happens when an intruder cyclone enters the pattern

How order emerges from cyclone chaos

Take a look at Juno jumping Jupiter’s shadow

Jupiter’s south pole has a new cyclone. The discovery of the massive Jovian tempest occurred on Nov. 3, 2019, during the most recent data-gathering flyby of Jupiter by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. It was the 22nd flyby during which the solar-powered spacecraft collected science data on the gas giant, soaring only 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) above its cloud tops. The flyby also marked a victory for the mission team, whose innovative measures kept the solar-powered spacecraft clear of what could have been a mission-ending eclipse.

“The combination of creativity and analytical thinking has once again paid off big time for NASA,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “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 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, first thing out of the gate on the other side, we make another fundamental discovery.”

When Juno first arrived at Jupiter in July 2016, its infrared and visible-light cameras discovered giant cyclones encircling the planet’s poles — nine in the north and six in the south. Were they, like their Earthly siblings, a transient phenomenon, taking only weeks to develop and then ebb? Or could these cyclones, each nearly as wide as the continental U.S., be more permanent fixtures?

With each flyby, the data reinforced the idea that five windstorms were swirling in a pentagonal pattern around a central storm at the south pole and that the system seemed stable. None of the six storms showed signs of yielding to allow other cyclones to join in.

Infrared image of Jupiter's south pole

An outline of the continental United States superimposed over the central cyclone and an outline of Texas is superimposed over the newest cyclone at Jupiter’s south pole give a sense of their immense scale. The hexagonal arrangement of the cyclones is large enough to dwarf the Earth.


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“It almost appeared like the polar cyclones were part of a private club that seemed to resist new members,” said Bolton.

Infrared image of Jupiter

In this annotated infrared image, six cyclones form a hexagonal pattern around a central cyclone at Jupiter’s south pole. The image was generated from data collected by NJASA’s Juno spacecraft on Nov. 4, 2019.


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Then, during Juno’s 22nd science pass, a new, smaller cyclone churned to life and joined the fray.

This composite visible-light image taken by the JunoCam imager

This composite visible-light image taken by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft on Nov. 3, 2019, shows a new cyclone at Jupiter’s south pole has joined five other cyclones to create a hexagonal shape around a large single cyclone.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/JunoCam

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The Life of a Young Cyclone

“Data from Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper [JIRAM] instrument indicates we went from a pentagon of cyclones surrounding one at the center to a hexagonal arrangement,” said Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome. “This new addition is smaller in stature than its six more established cyclonic brothers: It’s about the size of Texas. Maybe JIRAM data from future flybys will show the cyclone growing to the same size as its neighbors.”

Probing the weather layer down to 30 to 45 miles (50 to 70 kilometers) below Jupiter’s cloud tops, JIRAM captures infrared light emerging from deep inside Jupiter. Its data indicate wind speeds of the new cyclone average 225 mph (362 kph) — comparable to the velocity found in its six more established polar colleagues.

The spacecraft’s JunoCam also obtained visible-light imagery of the new cyclone. The two datasets shed light on 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.


Soft pastels enhance the rich colors of the swirls and storms in Jupiter’s clouds. This image of a vortex on Jupiter, taken by the Juno mission camera, JunoCam, captures the amazing internal structure of the giant storm.

Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran, © BY NC ND

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“These cyclones are new weather phenomena that have not been seen or predicted before,” said Cheng Li, a Juno scientist from the University of California, Berkeley. “Nature is revealing new physics regarding fluid motions and how giant planet atmospheres work. We are beginning to grasp it through observations and computer simulations. Future Juno flybys will help us further refine our understanding by revealing how the cyclones evolve over time.”

Shadow Jumping

Of course, the new cyclone would never have been discovered if Juno had frozen to death during the eclipse when Jupiter got between the spacecraft and the Sun’s heat and light rays.


Jupiter’s moon Io casts its shadow on Jupiter whenever it passes in front of the Sun as seen from Jupiter.

Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Tanya Oleksuik, © CC BY

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Juno has been navigating in deep space since 2011. It entered an initial 53-day orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Originally, the mission planned to reduce the size of its orbit a few months later to shorten the period between science flybys of the gas giant to every 14 days. But the project team recommended to NASA to forgo the main engine burn due to concerns about the spacecraft’s fuel delivery system. Juno’s 53-day orbit provides all the science as originally planned; it just takes longer to do so. Juno’s longer life at Jupiter is what led to the need to avoid Jupiter’s shadow.


Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Ever since the day we entered orbit around Jupiter, we made sure it remained bathed in sunlight 24/7,” said Steve Levin, Juno project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Our navigators and engineers told us a day of reckoning was coming, when we would go into Jupiter’s shadow for about 12 hours. We knew that for such an extended period without power, our spacecraft would suffer a similar fate as the Opportunity rover, when the skies of Mars filled with dust and blocked the Sun’s rays from reaching its solar panels.”


Jupiter’s clouds have a luminous beauty in this image taken by Juno’s JunoCam camera on its 20th close pass by Jupiter.

Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Kevin M. Gill, © CC BY

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Without the Sun’s rays providing power, Juno would be chilled below tested levels, eventually draining its battery cells beyond recovery. So the navigation team set devised a plan to “jump the shadow,” maneuvering the spacecraft just enough so its trajectory would miss the eclipse.

“In deep space, you are either in sunlight or your out of sunlight; there really is no in-between,” said Levin.


“A mind of limits, a camera of thoughts” is the name of this contribution from citizen scientist Prateek Sarpal. Jupiter inspires artists and scientists with its beauty. In this image, south is up, and the enhanced color evokes an exotic marble and childhood joy.

Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Prateek Sarpal, © CC NC SA

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The navigators calculated that if Juno performed a rocket burn weeks in advance of Nov. 3, while the spacecraft was as far in its orbit from Jupiter as it gets, they could modify its trajectory enough to give the eclipse the slip. The maneuver would utilize the spacecraft’s reaction control system, which wasn’t initially intended to be used for a maneuver of this size and duration.


Swirling in Jupiter’s atmosphere for hundreds of years, the Great Red Spot is captured in this pair of close-up images from Juno’s JunoCam camera.

Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Kevin M. Gill, © CC BY

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On Sept. 30, at 7:46 p.m. EDT (4:46 p.m. PDT), the reaction control system burn began. It ended 10 ½ hours later. The propulsive maneuver — five times longer than any previous use of that system — changed Juno’s orbital velocity by 126 mph (203 kph) and consumed about 160 pounds (73 kilograms) of fuel. Thirty-four days later, the spacecraft’s solar arrays continued to convert sunlight into electrons unabated as Juno prepared to scream once again over Jupiter’s cloud tops.


NASAs Juno spacecraft captured this image of White Spot Z, one of the long-lived storms in Jupiters atmosphere. “White Spot Z” is one of the long-lived storms in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Three JunoCam images from Juno’s 21st close pass by Jupiter have been mosaicked together, showing the setting of this oval-shaped storm perched just above the reddish-brown North Equatorial Belt.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Björn Jónsson, © CC NC SA

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“Thanks to our navigators and engineers, we still have a mission,” said Bolton. “What they did is more than just make our cyclone discovery possible; they made possible the new insights and revelations about Jupiter that lie ahead of us.”

NASA’s JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal

Infrared image of Jupiter

Six cyclones can be seen at Jupiter’s south pole in this infrared image taken on Feb. 2, 2017, during the 3rd science pass of NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument measures heat radiated from the planet at an infrared wavelength of around 5 microns.


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investigator, Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Italian Space Agency (ASI) contributed the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built and operates the spacecraft.


A series of JunoCam images from Juno’s 23rd close pass by Jupiter (Perijove 23) on Nov. 3, 2019 has revealed a sixth circumpolar cyclone in the cluster around Jupiter’s south pole

Credits: NASA/JPL-CaltechNASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

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More information about Juno is available at:

More information on Jupiter is at:

The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:


24 thoughts on “NASA’s Juno Navigators Enable Jupiter Cyclone Discovery

  1. Wow! Neat pictures. Looks like some photos Al Gore could use. Who put the hex on Jupiter? Since the cyclones have different colors I’m wondering if this reflects a different surface geology, with the dust caught up in the cyclone?

    • The larger size of Jupiter creates more profound Coriolis effect bands. On our tiny Earth, we get polar vortex, temperate jet stream, trade winds, and our toilets swirl in the same direction (by N/S hemisphere).

      As for Jupiter’s surface, no, that’s much, much deeper, and is most certainly a smooth ball of metallic hydrogen. The colors are caused by trace gases mixed in at different layers of atmosphere. Think of what it would be like to have dozens of different cloud layers, all formed by different chemicals – that’s Jupiter.

      • Patrick
        December 13, 2019 at 4:03 am

        In an ideal world with perfectly circular toilet bowls with the perfectly circular drain perfectly sited at the centre what you say would be true.
        However in the real world, toilets, sinks, bathtubs, etc. are way too small and un-circular for this effect to be seen.
        This is a very widely circulated and believed “fact” but untrue I fear.
        However, this might just work for our toilets on Jupiter!

        • Generations of entry level quartermasters in the US Navy have been tasked with the very important task of documenting the exact moment of crossing the equator. It seems that the only way to determine this with certainty, at least back in the days before GPS, was to go the the head (aka toilet, bathroom, loo) and to flush the toilet repeatedly while observing the direction of rotation. The moment that the direction of rotation changed one could be certain that the equator has been crossed.

          Similarly, generations of junior boiler mates were sent off on the search for a bucket of steam to prime the boiler and electrician mates were sent to find a bucket of electrons to fill the wires before they were connected. These were the rites of passage.

          • And junior aircraft mechanics are sent to borrow a buck of “prop wash” from the next hangar to clean the propellers.

          • In the Coast Guard we were sent to get buckets of “propwash” or a hundred feet of “shoreline”.

      • Perhaps Jupiter’s size increases the effect, however it would be enlightening to see an image of Earth’s atmospheric motions in false color. This image could be an educational tool to show the dim minions that Earth is not so different, and we are virtually insignificant.
        There are some very good images of cloud formations but they omit all the other motions involved.

        How do we make such good images of the Jovian atmosphere but such poor ones of our own?

  2. @wuwt

    When Juno first arrived at Jupiter in July 2016, its infrared and visible-light cameras discovered giant cyclones encircling the planet’s poles — nine in the north and six in the south …. A new, smaller cyclone can be seen at the lower right of this infrared image of Jupiter’s south pole taken on Nov. 4, 2019, during the 23rd science pass of the planet by NASA’s Juno spacecraft..

    At the north pole there are eight cyclones revolving, planetary style, around a ninth cyclone lodged on the pole. The configuration looked very stable, and previously I conjectured (last Halloween) that it was a ‘permanent’ feature (like the Jovian Red Spot).
    Evidently, Jupiter can change its spots.

  3. Some of those Juno shots are very reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Starry Starry Night” painting.

    This is LL too cool for words!

    A small heads up: in the SETI search project there are now five (5!) signals that are good candidates for further study, including the original “WOW!” picked up in 1977 by a radio telescope at Ohio State University. All are coming from sources within 100 light years of Earth.

    You all have a nice busy weekend.

  4. Wow, yes, neat pictures indeed but 73kg (160 lb) of fuel on one manoeuvere …they don’t want to do that too often! Maybe next time a nuclear power source would be a better idea; but I’m sure there’s lots of pressure at NASA to:

    1. Use solar panels so they can show us all just how wonderful this power source is

    2. Avoid nasty nuclear…we must all remember 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc., etc. (nuclear bad , solar good).

    I’m surprised they didn’t predict this problem earlier and maybe would have been able to save some fuel.

    • The real problem with a nuclear power source is what would happen if the launch failed. Plutonium is a very nasty carcinogen and if the container cracked and it was released into the environment, it wouldn’t be something you would want to happen.

      Deep space probes need nuclear as the Sun is just too far away. I think this one is at the absolute limit for solar.

      • If mommy and daddy are talking downstairs and you hear mommy express concern that if Teddy crashes in a plane he might spread radiation over a wide area — Teddy will whisper in your ear that it’s alright, even though he would survive a crash and you wouldn’t — he would do his best to prevent it from happening because he contains an aviation network interface with autopilot and instrument landing procedures for all commercial airliners. He can even fly a helicopter with your help. And don’t mind mommy, parents are weird sometimes. Could a solar powered bear do all this?

        ~Say hello to the Supertoy of the future: the nuclear powered Teddy Bear

    • “… next time a nuclear power source would be a better idea. …”

      Nuclear power units used in spacecraft are extremely useful and efficient for generating electricity, but do not provide any direct means of generating thrust, so would be useless for changing orbital velocity etc.

      Actually, 73kgs was a rather small amount of fuel. At launch Juno’s total mass was 3600 kgs, of which over 2000 kgs was fuel for the orbital thrusters (1250 kgs of hydrazine and 750 kgs of nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer)

      • Johanus
        December 13, 2019 at 6:58 am

        Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t ion engines powered by electricity…traditionally using solar panels but nuclear generated electricity would be an alternative. I think they use xenon gas as the fuel with the electricity providing the high temperatures to excite it (or something like that!).

        They are not hugely powerful but very efficient and can produce huge changes to spacecraft velocity given enough time.

        • Actually, I have not studied ion propulsion recently. Looking at the Wikipedia article I can see they have come a long way and are currently being used as you describe.

          They only work in a vacuum and produce less thrust than chemical thrusters, so cannot be used to launch rockets from earth. The smaller thrust implies that it would take longer to make velocity changes, but it could be used by smaller spacecraft comparable to Juno for orientation and orbital changes.

  5. The polygon shape is the key.

    What would cause this consistent geometric shape at Jupiter’s poles?

    Plasma (ionized matter) theorists suggest electromagnetic forces are what cause the consistent polygonal shape.

    The hypothesis is based on laboratory experiments (observation & measurement) with electromagnetism. These experiments have established the force of electromagnetism is a scale independent force to at least 16 orders of magnitude.

    Laboratory experiments can inform our understanding of cosmological phenomenon beyond our ability for direct observation & measurement.

    • According to Adrian Bejan, the formation of a set storms like this is common in nature. These features are created anytime the ingredients are presenting sent

      Speaking of ingredients, getting the right ingredients to make celebratory ash did he go to customer presents low

      • What the heck? That garbled message shows how well the internet is working in Pigg’s Peak.

        Bejan shows that not only is the development of such patterns predictable from the initial conditions, the theory is well enough understood to be able to work backwards from observations (which we now have for Jupiter) to know what the conditions are.

        For example, we have two manifestations of the deep cell circulation patterns – the north and south poles. There are different (6 v.s. 9) numbers of storms. From this alone we can derive certain facts about the temperature, gas density and depth of the atmosphere creating the storms. This is done by running the calculations by Bejan backwards.

        When it went from a stable 5-pattern to stable 6-pattern there was an underlying cause, a change in the heat engine dynamics. Fortunately the analysis is scalable. There is a hexagonal pattern cloud at the north pole of Saturn and Neptune (?) that probably reflects a similar set of storms underneath.

        Let’s apply modern science and engineering to the analysis. I remind y’all that Bejan says the CO2 and global warming question was so simple it was not even interesting, and declined further comment.

  6. Are the Jovian’s sending us a message? Looking at the first 3 images (same image, just 2 with graphics overlaid), the center cyclone has the silhouette profile of a man looking down. Reminds me of the Martian Face from Viking-1. Maybe the Hexagon is a puzzle we need to decipher, like in the 2000 ‘documentary’ Mission To Mars?

  7. From the article: “An outline of the continental United States superimposed over the central cyclone and an outline of Texas is superimposed over the newest cyclone at Jupiter’s south pole give a sense of their immense scale.”

    I love these kinds of illustrations! They put things in perspective.

  8. The Gas Giant Planets’ weather systems respond to the solar cycle. Already known.

    This new Jovian cyclone is likely due to increased delta T between high latitudes and lower latitudes due to the ongoing Solar Min. Just as on Earth.

  9. I guess we need to get some more “weather satellites” orbiting the other gas giants in our solar system along with the few satellites that have weather. That will help us in figuring out our Earth weather.

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