Say what? This is the storm-tossed north pole of Jupiter?

By Tom Yulsman | March 9, 2018 2:54 pm

NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter has produced some wild imagery of the giant planet, showing massive swirling cyclones with a 3D effect

Juno image of Jupiter's north pole

This computer-generated image is based on an infrared image of Jupiter’s north polar region that was acquired on February 2, 2017, by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard Juno during the spacecraft’s fourth pass over Jupiter. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM)

When I first glanced at the image above, I thought I was looking at the surface of the Sun. But no, these really are mega cyclones swirling with winds up to 220 miles per hour around Jupiter’s north and south poles, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

According to new research, they are long-lasting features unlike anything else seen before in our solar system.

A wealth of new findings from Juno about the giant gaseous planet have been published this week in the journal Nature. They’ve also been featured in a release by NASA.

As seen in the image above, Jupiter’s north pole features a dominating central cyclone surrounded by eight others with diameters as large as 2,900 miles. This means the largest surrounding cyclone is big enough to cover much of North America.

Juno carries an instrument that views Jupiter in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. It can probe the planet’s atmosphere down to a depth of 30 to 45 miles, providing new insights into weather phenomena extending well beneath the cloud tops.


Data acquired by the instrument — the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper, or JIRAM — were used to create the computer-generated image, enhanced with a three-dimensional effect showing the structure of the storms. (For more on how it was done, see this explanation from NASA.)

Juno image of Jupiter

Computer-generated image of Jupiter’s south pole based on Juno data. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM)

The mega cyclone at Jupiter’s south pole is surrounded by five cyclones. with diameters between 3,500 to 4,300 miles. The image at right shows what they look like. It was created with JIRAM data using the same technique.

The cyclones at both poles are surprising in a number of ways. Here’s one of them, as explained by NASA

Almost all the polar cyclones (at both poles), are so densely packed that their spiral arms come in contact with adjacent cyclones. However, as tightly spaced as the cyclones are, they have remained distinct, with individual morphologies over the seven months of observations detailed in the [scientific] paper.

“The question is, why do they not merge?” asks Alberto Adriani, a Juno co-investigator, quoted in NASA’s release. “We know with Cassini data that Saturn has a single cyclonic vortex at each pole. We are beginning to realize that not all gas giants are created equal.”

  • OWilson

    What is contributing to such “extreme weather”?

    Seems to be standard with all but the rocky planets!

    • Purgesecretsociety


  • Ken Albertsen

    I was meditating on the solar system this morning, and Jupiter played a part. Jupiter is fascinating. Instead of spending hundreds of billions of $$’s building nukes ww, how ’bout sending some probes into Jupiter.

    • OWilson

      So was I and for some reason had this urge to go out and devour a large pizza!

  • Mike Richardson

    I wonder if Jupiter’s more intense and separate polar cyclones, in contrast to Saturn’s hexagon polar feature, might have something to do with the greater amount of heat Jupiter generates in its interior. I think that’s been put forth as the power source behind the Great Red Spot’s longevity.

    • Ken Albertsen

      It’s believable, and if so, there may be a ‘Goldilocks Strata’ somewhere between the surface and the hot core. Anyone want to start sewing a big balloon with a NJ sized capsule under it?

    • Purgesecretsociety

      Do to Jupiter’s immense magnetosphere, the poles are subjected to a massive amount of electrical activity. Technically, Birkland currents are the reason.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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