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Jupiter’s Colors: Scientists Offer New Explanation for Mysterious Patterns

A new study has finally offered an explanation for Jupiter’s trippy colors and unusual swirls. These gaseous swirls have become the most recognizable aspect of the giant planet but also one of its most puzzling features. A team of scientists says they now understand what causes the planet’s distinctive color bands and why these swirls behave the way they do.

Astrophysicists Navid Constantinou and Jeffrey Parker have put forward a new theory that Jupiter’s jet streams, which control the flow of gasses around the planet’s outer atmosphere, are actually cut off and shaped by magnetized gasses from below Jupiter’s surface. Their findings were published in The Astrophysical Journal on Thursday.

Those majestic Jupiter swirls, up close.
Jupiter

Scientists have known that the colorful stripes of ammonia clouds that shape Jupiter’s look are guided by jet streams, or strong wind bands that sweep the gaseous planet. On the surface, these jet streams behave similarly to those on Earth’s atmosphere, but take on a different functionality below Jupiter’s atmospheric clouds. Thanks to the latest measurements from NASA’s Juno mission, which arrived at Jupiter on July 2016, scientists discovered these jet streams extend 3,000 kilometers (roughly 1,800 miles) deep before stopping abruptly, leaving Constantinou and Parker to wonder what causes such an exact end.

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