There is, after all, a similarity between our planet and the largest one in our solar system: our atmospheres change direction in a specific and accurate interval. To elaborate, the equatorial jet streams comprises of the polar and subtropical jets. The interplay of these two jets is responsible for our weather. The movement and direction of the equatorial jet reverse every 14 months on Earth. This cycle instigates the movement of ozone, water vapor, and pollution, tremendously impacting the weather. This cycle is called Earth’s quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO).
After five years of thoroughly scrutinizing Jupiter’s thickly-veiled atmosphere from NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) in Hawaii, NASA scientists believe that the equatorial jets in Jupiter’s atmosphere also reverse every four Earth years. For Jupiter, this cycle is called the quasi-quadrennial oscillation (QQO). Saturn has its own version of the phenomenon, the quasi-periodic oscillation (QPO), with a duration of about 15 Earth years.
Jupiter is much bigger than Earth, much farther from the Sun, rotates much faster, and has a very different composition, but it turns out to be an excellent laboratory for understanding this equatorial phenomenon.
– Rick Cosentino, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research–Planets.
Scientists are eager to find out what causes these equatorial-jet movements and why their timeline is so precise. Most importantly, researchers are keen to learn about the different types of atmospheric waves and their functions. As the equatorial jets extend high into Jupiter’s atmosphere, scientists hypothesized that they might be caused by gravity waves. However, their model assumes gravity waves are produced by convection in the lower atmosphere and travel up into the stratosphere, where they force the QQO to change direction.
Through this study we gained a better understanding of the physical mechanisms coupling the lower and upper atmosphere in Jupiter, and thus a better understanding of the atmosphere as a whole.
– Raul Morales-Juberias, an associate professor at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, and second author of research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets.
Currently, scientists are gathering data to measure one full cycle of the QQO in Jupiter. Using a high-resolution instrument called Texas Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrograph (TEXES) on the IRTF, scientists span a large area of Jupiter and analyze the atmospheric patterns and factors. Unlike the previous data set, scientists expect the current research to yield higher resolution and more pronounced images, thus increasing reliability and accuracy of their experiment.
Maybe we should colonize Jupiter, after all!