In its successful plunge into the crushing Jovian depths last month, a capsule from the Galileo spacecraft survived for 57 minutes to transmit a wealth of data from the first view inside the atmosphere of Jupiter or any of the giant gaseous planets.
It was time enough to jolt scientists with surprises about the planet's clouds, winds, water and chemical composition and second thoughts about their own theories of planetary formation.
Scientists reported yesterday that Jupiter appeared to have much less water than expected, clearer skies, less lightning but fierce atmospheric turbulence, winds that grow stronger at depths, and lower than expected levels of helium, neon and some heavy elements like carbon, oxygen and sulfur.
The first results of Galileo's probe of Jupiter's atmosphere were described at a news conference at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
"The probe detected extremely strong winds and very intense turbulence during its descent through Jupiter's thick atmosphere," said Richard Young, the probe team's leader. "This provides evidence that the energy source driving much of Jupiter's distinctive circulation phenomena is probably heat escaping from the deep interior of the planet."
In contrast, the winds and other weather of planets like Earth, Venus and Mars are driven by solar energy, not from their own energy. Scientists were surprised to find that Jupiter's winds got stiffer the deeper the probe plunged, reaching velocities of 330 mph.