Scientists recreated Jupiter's chaotic atmosphere in the lab

The results will help us better understand data from the Juno probe.

UCLA/Jonathan Aurnou

Many scientists figure that Jupiter has a limited amount of ammonia that is mostly concentrated in the upper atmosphere. However, the Juno probe recently spotted plumes of the gas extending up to 65 miles deep, well below the outer clouds. A team from UCLA and France have created a physical lab simulation they believe helps explain why. By spinning water around in a tank and injecting turbulence, jets formed deep below the surface, much like the plumes Juno detected. The work could lead to computer simulations that help scientists better understand Jupiter data from upcoming Juno orbits.

To recreate Jupiter's swirling, turbulent atmosphere, the team filled a large tank with around 900 pounds of water. Spinning it at around 75 rpm pushed the water against the edges into a strongly curve shape approximating the surface of Jupiter. Turbulence was then injected into a "false bottom" and channeled through a series of inlet and outlet holes to simulate Jupiter's swirling winds. The water flow quickly turned into six concentric circles mimicking the strong "jet" winds on Jupiter (below).

"This is the first time that anyone has demonstrated that strong jets that look like those on Jupiter can develop in a real fluid," said lead author Jonathan Aurnou. The team thinks that "deep planetary jets" form on Jupiter and other gas giants in a similar fashion. (To see what that might look edge on, Aurnou showed a smaller simulation on the overly-dramatic TV show Deadliest Space Weather, shown in the video below.)

Next, the team will use supercomputers to simulate Jupiter's interior and atmosphere dynamics, aided in part by lessons from the lab simulation. They'll also try to make the spinning table simulation more realistic, which they hope will let them recreate Jupiter's massive "Great Red Spot," essentially a hurricane that has raged on the planet for over 300 years.