According to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory physicist Jeff Parker, who co-authored a research paper appearing in the Aug. 27 edition of Physical Review Fluids, there’s a reason why Jupiter’s stripes are only skin deep.
It turns out that the planet’s zonal winds -- the alternating east-west jet streams seen in photographs as colorful stripes -- only descend to 3,000 kilometers in the atmosphere. Magnetic fields can make fluids that conduct electricity (like Jupiter’s atmosphere) behave more like honey than water. Deeper into the planet, where the pressure is higher, the atmosphere becomes more conductive and is more strongly influenced by the planetary magnetic field. It’s also the same place where the stripes stop.
“The magnetically-enhanced viscosity could be strong enough to be the culprit that terminates the winds at depths below 3,000 km,” said Parker. “An electrically conducting, flowing fluid will bend or distort a magnetic field. What we showed is that the distortion of the magnetic field reacts back on the fluid in a way that effectively makes the fluid more viscous.”
Parker said this effect could potentially explain how the magnetic field can slow down and even stop the winds deeper into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The next step would be to explore the magnetic viscosity effect in 3D simulations, which would allow more detailed and realistic comparisons with actual data from Jupiter.