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Storms and the Depletion of Ammonia in Jupiter: I. Microphysics of “Mushballs’
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  • Tristan Guillot,
  • David J Stevenson,
  • Sushil K. Atreya,
  • Scott J Bolton,
  • Heidi Becker
Tristan Guillot
Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur

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David J Stevenson
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Sushil K. Atreya
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Scott J Bolton
Southwest Research Institute
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Heidi Becker
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
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Microwave observations by the Juno spacecraft have shown that, contrary to expectations, the concentration of ammonia is still variable down to pressures of tens of bars in Jupiter. We show that during strong storms able to loft water ice into a region located at pressures between 1.1 and 1.5 bar and temperatures between 173K and 188K, ammonia vapor can dissolve into water ice to form a low-temperature liquid phase containing about 1/3 ammonia and 2/3 water. We estimate that, following the process creating hailstorms on Earth, this liquid phase enhances the growth of hail-like particles that we call ‘mushballs’. We develop a simple model to estimate the growth of these mushballs, their fall into Jupiter’s deep atmosphere and their evaporation. We show that they evaporate deeper than the expected water cloud base level, between 7 and 25 bar depending on the assumed abundance of water ice lofted by thunderstorms and on the assumed ventilation coefficient governing heat transport between the atmosphere and the mushball. Because the ammonia is located mostly in the core of the mushballs, it tends to be delivered deeper than water, increasing the efficiency of the process. Further sinking of the condensates is expected due to cold temperature and ammonia- and water-rich downdrafts formed by the evaporation of mushballs. This process can thus potentially account for the measurements of ammonia depletion in Jupiter’s deep atmosphere.
Aug 2020Published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets volume 125 issue 8. 10.1029/2020JE006403