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We’ve probed some 250 kilometers into Jupiter’s atmosphere, and that’s raised some new questions about the mysterious planet. And we’ve taken another important step in looking for life on Mars by using a common chemistry process for the first time in space!

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This episode is sponsored by Wren, a  website with a monthly subscription that helps fund projects to combat the climate crisis.

Click the link in the description  to learn more about how you can make a monthly contribution to support projects  like rainforest protection programs. [♪ INTRO]. One of Jupiter’s most recognizable features  is its alternating red and white stripes.

But since their first  appearance in early telescopes, astronomers have only been able  to study them from the outside. And this made it hard to tease out  their three-dimensional structure. Like, are they essentially just a thin  layer of paint on the planet’s surface, or only the tip of an atmospheric  iceberg extending deep below?

Well, thanks to NASA’s Juno spacecraft,  their true nature is finally becoming clear. In a paper published last week in the  Journal of Geophysical Research–Planets, a team of Juno researchers  probed Jupiter’s atmosphere to a depth of more than 250 kilometers. And what they learned… raised some new questions.

The key instrument for this research  was Juno’s microwave radiometer, which measures the intensity of microwaves produced by molecules in Jupiter’s atmosphere. The instrument is made of six  channels, each of which is sensitive to radio emissions  at a different wavelength. And ultimately, each of those  wavelengths corresponds to activity at a different atmospheric depth, ranging from the top of Jupiter’s clouds  to 250 kilometers down.

When the team pointed this  instrument at the planet’s stripes, they immediately saw a pattern. At the surface, the redder  stripes, called belts, were bright, glowing with microwave emission. But the whiter stripes, which are called zones, were dark, indicating a lack of emission.

And as they looked deeper into the  planet, this pattern persisted for a bit… but then, it suddenly reversed. At higher than 10 bars of pressure,  which is the standard way of describing depth on Jupiter, the zones appeared to be emitting microwaves, and the belts were dark. The authors call the transition  region the jovicline, an analogy with the thermocline  region of Earth’s oceans, where seawater switches from  being mostly warm to mostly cool.

And they identified two possible  mechanisms that could cause it, each of which would teach us something  about how Jupiter’s interior works. The first idea is that the regions of  low emission are caused by ammonia. Ammonia strongly absorbs microwaves, so  if there’s a lot of it in a belt or zone, it would stop any emission from reaching Juno.

Jupiter also has giant, rotating  cells of air in its atmosphere. And if the cells are oriented so that the  ammonia is in the zones near the surface, but not in the belts deeper down, it  could reproduce the pattern seen by Juno. The other idea is that the  changes in microwave emission are related to changes in  the atmosphere’s temperature.

The general idea is that, closer to  the surface, the zones are cooler and the belts are warmer, so, the  belts give off more microwaves. But if you go deep enough,  they switch, with the zones becoming warmer for some reason. In reality, both effects are  probably at play to some degree and might be why the brightness is variable.

But if scientists can figure  which one is dominant, that could help them understand more than  just what’s going on with the stripes. It could also help them understand the  atmosphere’s winds deep inside the planet. In fact, the author’s calculations  indicate that the change in the wind speed with depth could be 50 times greater in the temperature scenario than in the ammonia one.

Unfortunately, Juno’s  observations aren’t enough to differentiate between the hypotheses,  but it is an exciting start that points the way for future exploration. And that is sometimes how science works. No one mission can answer all the questions, and nowhere is that clearer than  in NASA’s Mars exploration program.

Like, a paper published this week  in the journal Nature Astronomy describing a new technique to find  organic molecules in Mars’s soil. It is one more step in our  search for life on Mars. Over the course of two decades,  NASA has followed a slow, but steady plan to use rovers in its  search for life on the Red Planet.

First was the Pathfinder mission  and its Sojourner rover that proved that driving on the surface of  Mars was something that you could do! Then came the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, who found evidence that water  once flowed on Mars’s surface. After that was Curiosity, who’s  looking for organic molecules.

These are molecules containing carbon  that are crucial for life as we know it, so finding them suggests that life  could have maybe evolved somewhere. And now, we’ve got Perseverance,  who, for the first time, is looking for the actual evidence of life. But, even though Perseverance  and its helicopter Ingenuity might be garnering all the attention,  Curiosity’s work hasn’t stopped.

And that’s where this new paper comes in. It reports on the result of an experiment  carried out by Curiosity in 2017 that tested the technique of derivatization. That’s the process of using a  chemical reaction to change a molecule you want to study into something  that’s easier to work with.

It’s an everyday process for chemists in the lab, but it had never been tried on a spacecraft. Curiosity used the technique to  better process polar molecules, or molecules with a different electric  charge on one side than the other. Specifically, it used chemical  reactions to add more atoms to these polar molecules, so  that the tech on-board the rover could identify them more easily.

Key building blocks of life are  polar, such as some amino acids, so it’s an experiment with  real-world application on Mars. And while the experiment didn’t turn  up any amino acids in the Martian soil, it did find other, organic compounds,  although they’re still working to figure out where all of them came from. Maybe more importantly, though, they proved that derivatization can work in a spaceflight context.

That’s the kind of step forward that  NASA’s Mars program has been built on. And, who knows, maybe it’s just the advance. Perseverance needs to find that first  evidence of extraterrestrial life.

And if you would like to help advance  the fight against the climate crisis, you should check out today’s sponsor Wren. They are a website with a monthly subscription that helps to fund projects  to combat the climate crisis. Wren searches around the globe for  projects that have the biggest potential, getting data on the ground to  track their impact over time.

Which would not be possible without your support. Over the long term, we need  governments to fund these projects, but we can start by crowdfunding them. And as a bonus, we’ve partnered with  Wren to protect an extra ten acres of rainforest for the first 100 people who  sign up using our link in the description!

And as always, thank you for  supporting SciShow Space. [♪ OUTRO].