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NASA's Juno Reveals an Amazing Side of Jupiter You've Never Seen
Posted by Guy Pirro on 6/3/2017 10:30 AM


This image shows Jupiter's south pole, as seen by NASA's Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). The oval features are cyclones up to 600 miles (1000 kilometers) in diameter. Multiple images taken with the JunoCam instrument on three separate orbits were combined to show all areas in daylight, enhanced color, and stereographic projection. (Image Credits; NASA, JPL-Caltech, SWRI, MSSS, Betsy Asher Hall, Gervasio Robles)


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Early science results from NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our Solar System as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones, plunging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant, and a mammoth, lumpy magnetic field that may indicate it was generated closer to the planet's surface than previously thought.

"We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating," said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "It was a long trip to get to Jupiter, but these first results already demonstrate it was well worth the journey."

Juno launched on August 5, 2011, entering Jupiter's orbit on July 4, 2016. The findings from the first data collection pass, which flew within about 2600 miles (4200 kilometers) of Jupiter's swirling cloud tops, have just been released.

"We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in San Antonio, Texas. "But now that we are here we are finding that Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders. There is so much going on here that we didn't expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter."

Among the findings that challenge assumptions are those provided by Juno's imager, JunoCam. The images show both of Jupiter's poles are covered in Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together.

"We're puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is, and why Jupiter's north pole doesn't look like the south pole," said Bolton. "We're questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we're going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?"

Another surprise comes from Juno's Microwave Radiometer (MWR), which samples the thermal microwave radiation from Jupiter's atmosphere, from the top of the ammonia clouds to deep within its atmosphere. The MWR data indicates that Jupiter's iconic belts and zones are mysterious, with the belt near the equator penetrating all the way down, while the belts and zones at other latitudes seem to evolve to other structures. The data suggest the ammonia is quite variable and continues to increase as far down as we can see with MWR, which is a few hundred miles.





Prior to the Juno mission, it was known that Jupiter had the most intense magnetic field in the Solar System. Measurements of the massive planet's magnetosphere, from Juno's magnetometer investigation (MAG), indicate that Jupiter's magnetic field is even stronger than models expected, and more irregular in shape. MAG data indicates the magnetic field greatly exceeded expectations at 7.766 Gauss, about 10 times stronger than the strongest magnetic field found on Earth.

"Juno is giving us a view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we've never had before," said Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator and the lead for the mission's magnetic field investigation at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Already we see that the magnetic field looks lumpy. It is stronger in some places and weaker in others. This uneven distribution suggests that the field might be generated by dynamo action closer to the surface, above the layer of metallic hydrogen. Every flyby we execute gets us closer to determining where and how Jupiter's dynamo works."





Juno also is designed to study the polar magnetosphere and the origin of Jupiter's powerful auroras, its northern and southern lights. These auroral emissions are caused by particles that pick up energy, slamming into atmospheric molecules. Juno's initial observations indicate that the process seems to work differently on Jupiter than on Earth.

Juno is in a polar orbit around Jupiter and the majority of each orbit is spent well away from the gas giant. But once every 53 days, its trajectory approaches Jupiter from above its north pole, where it begins a two hour transit (from pole to pole) flying north to south with its eight science instruments collecting data and its JunoCam public outreach camera snapping pictures. The download of six megabytes of data collected during the transit can take 1.5 days.

"Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new," said Bolton. "On our next flyby on July 11, we will fly directly over one of the most iconic features in the entire solar system -- one that every school kid knows -- Jupiter's Great Red Spot. If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it's Juno and her cloud piercing science instruments."

The Juno mission is the second spacecraft designed under NASA's New Frontiers Program. The first was the Pluto New Horizons mission, which flew by the small planet in July 2015 after a nine and a half year flight. The program provides opportunities to carry out several medium class missions identified as top priority objectives by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council in Washington DC.

Juno's principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our Solar System during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.

With its suite of science instruments, Juno will investigate the possible existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet's auroras.

Juno will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the Solar System.





Theories about Solar System formation all begin with the collapse of a giant cloud of gas and dust, or nebula, most of which formed the infant Sun. Like the Sun, Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium, so it must have formed early, capturing most of the material left after our star came to be. How this happened, however, is unclear. Did a massive planetary core form first and gravitationally capture all that gas, or did an unstable region collapse inside the nebula, triggering the planet's formation? Differences between these scenarios are profound.

Even more importantly, the composition and role of icy planetesimals, or small proto-planets, in planetary formation hangs in the balance. And with them, the origin of Earth and other terrestrial planets. Icy planetesimals likely were the carriers of materials like water and carbon compounds that are the fundamental building blocks of life.

Unlike Earth, Jupiter's giant mass allowed it to hold onto its original composition, providing us with a way of tracing our Solar System's history. Juno will measure the amount of water and ammonia in Jupiter's atmosphere and determine if the planet actually has a solid core, directly resolving the origin of this giant planet and thereby the Solar System. By mapping Jupiter's gravitational and magnetic fields, Juno will reveal the planet's interior structure and measure the mass of the core.

Atmosphere -- How deep Jupiter's colorful zones, belts, and other features penetrate is one of the most outstanding fundamental questions about the giant planet. Juno will determine the global structure and motions of the planet's atmosphere below the cloud tops for the first time, mapping variations in the atmosphere's composition, temperature, clouds and patterns of movement down to unprecedented depths.

Magnetosphere - Deep in Jupiter's atmosphere, under great pressure, hydrogen gas is squeezed into a fluid known as metallic hydrogen. At these great depths, the hydrogen acts like an electrically conducting metal, which is believed to be the source of the planet's intense magnetic field. This powerful magnetic environment creates the brightest auroras in our Solar System, as charged particles precipitate down into the planet's atmosphere. Juno will directly sample the charged particles and magnetic fields near Jupiter's poles for the first time, while simultaneously observing the auroras in ultraviolet light produced by the extraordinary amounts of energy crashing into the polar regions. These investigations will greatly improve our understanding of this remarkable phenomenon and also of similar magnetic objects, like young stars with their own planetary systems.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for NASA. The principal investigator is Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colorado built the spacecraft.


For more information:

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/a-whole-new-jupiter-first-science-results-from-nasa-s-juno-mission

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/overview/index.html

https://www.astromart.com/news/news.asp?news_id=1218

https://www.astromart.com/news/news.asp?news_id=1534

https://www.astromart.com/news/news.asp?news_id=884




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