Nav: Home

Simulating the jet streams and anticyclones of Jupiter and Saturn

November 30, 2015

A University of Alberta researcher has successfully generated 3D simulations of deep jet streams and storms on Jupiter and Saturn, helping to satiate our eternal quest for knowledge of planetary dynamics. The results facilitate a deeper understanding of planetary weather and provide clues to the dynamics of Earth's weather patterns evidenced in jet streams and ocean currents.

"Since the pioneering telescope observations of Giovanni Cassini in the mid-17th century, stargazers have wondered about the bands and spots of Jupiter," says Moritz Heimpel, a physics professor at the University of Alberta whose study produced the simulations of the observable phenomena. The bands he references indicate jet streams while the spots signify storms; Heimpel is studying the dynamics between the two.

"The average citizen can now pick up a backyard telescope and see the structures that we write about today. However, even in the present age with the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn and the Juno craft approaching Jupiter, there is considerable debate about the dynamics of the atmospheres of the giant planets." Heimpel notes that despite 350 years of observation, the origin and dynamics of planetary jet streams and vortices or planetary storms remain debated.

Shallow weather layer simulations have struggled to adequately reproduce the jet streams on Jupiter and Saturn, while previous deep-flow models have not reproduced vortices. Heimpel and his colleagues have taken this challenge to the next level, using fluid dynamics equations and supercomputers to produce more realistic simulations that give insight into the origin of both features. "One of the big questions we have is how deep do these structures go?" says Heimpel. "These storms are embedded in these jet streams, and there's no solid surface to stop them. Our simulations imply that the jet streams plunge deep into the interior, while the storms are rather shallow." Unlike great storms on Earth, which eventually lose steam after encountering land mass, planetary storms can continue for centuries.

"At its core, our research is curiosity-based, and our ideas are driven by observations. We have a wealth of those from NASA space missions and ground-based telescopes," says Heimpel. "Now we want match the observations with the theory."

Heimpel notes that he and his colleagues will push their research even further in the coming year with the Juno spacecraft arriving in one of Jupiter's polar orbits in the summer of 2016 and the Cassini mission--in its final phase--moving into a polar orbit of Saturn in 2017. "These two missions will be key to verifying some of the predictions of our computer simulations. And more importantly, the missions will lead to new questions and controversies that we will address with ever more sophisticated analysis."

Heimpel and his group at the University of Alberta are one of only a few teams in Canada that use high-powered supercomputers to solve problems in global atmospheric and interior dynamics of the planets. The group is part of Compute Canada, a nationalized system of resource-sharing across universities.

For this paper, Heimpel teamed up with two researchers--Thomas Gastine and Johannes Wicht--from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany. The findings, "Simulation of deep-seated zonal jets and shallow vortices in giant gas atmospheres," were published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
-end-


University of Alberta

Related Saturn Articles:

In a cosmic hit-and-run, icy Saturn moon may have flipped
Enceladus -- a large icy, oceanic moon of Saturn -- may have flipped, the possible victim of an out-of-this-world wallop.
Saturn's bulging core implies moons younger than thought
Freshly harvested data from NASA's Cassini mission reveals that the ringed planet's moons may be younger than previously thought.
Mystery solved behind birth of Saturn's rings
A team of researchers have presented a new model for the origin of Saturn's rings based on results of computer simulations.
Climate of Jupiter and Saturn may yield clues to Earth's weather
Turning his interest in meteorology toward planetary science, University of Houston professor Liming Li is analyzing data collected from Jupiter, Saturn and Saturn's largest moon, Titan, to find clues about Earth's past and future weather.
UM researcher, NASA team discover how water escapes from Saturn
A University of Montana professor who studies astrophysics has discovered how water ions escape from Saturn's environment.
Simulating the jet streams and anticyclones of Jupiter and Saturn
A University of Alberta researcher has successfully generated 3-D simulations of deep jet streams and storms on Jupiter and Saturn, helping to satiate our eternal quest for knowledge of planetary dynamics.
Origin of Saturn's F ring and its shepherd satellites revealed
HYODO Ryuki, a second-year student in the Doctoral Program, and Professor OHTSUKI Keiji of the Graduate School of Science at Kobe University have revealed that Saturn's F ring and its shepherd satellites are natural outcome of the final stage of formation of Saturn's satellite system.
Saturn's rings in a supercomputer
Researchers from the Lomonosov Moscow State University explained the structure of Saturn's rings and modeled them using a supercomputer.
Small thunderstorms may add up to massive cyclones on Saturn
In a paper published today in the journal Nature Geoscience, atmospheric scientists at MIT propose a possible mechanism for Saturn's polar cyclones: over time, small, short-lived thunderstorms across the planet may build up angular momentum, or spin, within the atmosphere -- ultimately stirring up a massive and long-lasting vortex at the poles.
Geochemical process on Saturn's moon linked to life's origin
New work has revealed the pH of water spewing from a geyser-like plume on Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Related Saturn Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...