The Juno spacecraft reveals a complex, gigantic, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones, plunging storm systems that travel deep into the gas giant, a mammoth, lumpy magnetic field and a North pole that looks nothing like its South pole
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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's close look at Jupiter's little red spot (part 1)  /  image by NASA.gov, Gerald Eichstaedt, John Rogers  /  source NASA.gov

The JunoCam imager on NASA's Juno spacecraft snapped this shot of Jupiter's northern latitudes on Dec. 11, 2016 at 8:47 a.m. PST (11:47 a.m. EST), as the spacecraft performed a close flyby of the gas giant planet. The spacecraft was at an altitude of 10,300 miles (16,600 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops.

Juno's close look at Jupiter's little red spot (part 2)  /  image by NASA.gov, Gerald Eichstaedt, John Rogers  /  source NASA.gov

The JunoCam imager on NASA's Juno spacecraft snapped this shot of Jupiter's northern latitudes on Dec. 11, 2016 at 8:47 a.m. PST (11:47 a.m. EST), as the spacecraft performed a close flyby of the gas giant planet. The spacecraft was at an altitude of 10,300 miles (16,600 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops.

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. The findings from the first data-collection pass, which flew within about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) of Jupiter's swirling cloud tops on Aug. 27, are being published this week in two papers in the journal Science, as well as 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters.

“We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “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.”

Approaching Jupiter  /  image by NASA.gov, Gabriel Fiset  /  source NASA.gov

This enhanced color view of Jupiter's south pole was created by citizen scientist Gabriel Fiset using data from the JunoCam instrument on NASA's Juno spacecraft. Oval storms dot the cloudscape. Approaching the pole, the organized turbulence of Jupiter's belts and zones transitions into clusters of unorganized filamentary structures, streams of air that resemble giant tangled strings. The image was taken on Dec. 11, 2016 at 9:44 a.m. PST (12:44 p.m. EST), from an altitude of about 32,400 miles (52,200 kilometers) above the planet's beautiful cloud tops.

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?”

Jupiter's south pole  /  image by NASA.gov, Betsy Asher Hall, Gervasio Robles  /  source NASA.gov

This image was taken from an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). The oval features are cyclones, up to 600 miles (1,000 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.

Closeup of Jupiter's south pole  /  image by NASA.gov, Betsy Asher Hall, Gervasio Robles  /  source NASA.gov

This image was taken from an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). The oval features are cyclones, up to 600 miles (1,000 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.

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 or kilometers.

Jovian cloud tops  /  image by NASA.gov, Bjorn Jonsson  /  source NASA.gov

This enhanced color view of Jupiter's cloud tops was processed by citizen scientist Bjorn Jonsson using data from the JunoCam instrument on NASA's Juno spacecraft. The image highlights a massive counterclockwise rotating storm that appears as a white oval in the gas giant's southern hemisphere. Juno acquired this image on Feb. 2, 2017, at 6:13 a.m. PDT (9:13 a.m. EDT), as the spacecraft performed a close flyby of Jupiter. When the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) from the planet.

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.”

Crescent Jupiter with the great red spot  /  image by NASA.gov, Roman Tkachenko  /  source NASA.gov

This image of a crescent Jupiter and the iconic Great Red Spot was created by a citizen scientist (Roman Tkachenko) using data from Juno's JunoCam instrument. You can also see a series of storms shaped like white ovals, known informally as the "string of pearls." Below the Great Red Spot a reddish long-lived storm known as Oval BA is visible. The image was taken on Dec. 11, 2016 at 2:30 p.m. PST (5:30 p.m. EST), as the Juno spacecraft performed its third close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 285,100 miles (458,800 kilometers) from the planet.

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 at Jupiter than at 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.

Latest view of Jupiter from NASA’s Juno spacecraft

“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.” 

Illustration of the Juno spacecraft mission to Jupiter  /  image by NASA.gov  /  source NASA.gov

The Juno spacecraft carries a payload of 29 sensors, which feed data to nine onboard instruments. Eight of these instruments (MAG, MWR, Gravity Science, Waves, JEDI, JADE, UVS, JIRAM) are considered the science payload. One instrument, JunoCam, is aboard to generate images for education and public outreach.

Illustration of the Juno spacecraft instruments  /  image by NASA.gov  /  source NASA.gov

The Juno spacecraft carries a payload of 29 sensors, which feed data to nine onboard instruments. Eight of these instruments (MAG, MWR, Gravity Science, Waves, JEDI, JADE, UVS, JIRAM) are considered the science payload. One instrument, JunoCam, is aboard to generate images for education and public outreach.

Juno spacecraft payload system overview  /  image by NASA.gov  /  source NASA.gov

The Juno spacecraft carries a payload of 29 sensors, which feed data to nine onboard instruments. Eight of these instruments (MAG, MWR, Gravity Science, Waves, JEDI, JADE, UVS, JIRAM) are considered the science payload. One instrument, JunoCam, is aboard to generate images for education and public outreach.

After an almost five-year journey to the solar system's largest planet, NASA's Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter's orbit during a 35-minute engine burn. Confirmation that the burn had completed was received on Earth at 8:53 pm. PDT (11:53 p.m. EDT) Monday, July 4.

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

Juno team members  /  image by NASA.gov  /  source NASA's Flickr photostream

Celebrating after the spacecraft signaled a successful orbit insertion at Jupiter.

First Science From Juno at Jupiter (NASA News Audio with Visuals)

Source and references

  1. NASA.gov by Dwayne Brown, Laurie Cantillo, DC Agle - A Whole New Jupiter: First Science Results from NASA’s Juno Mission
  2. NASA.gov - Juno mission information
  3. MissionJuno.org - Juno mission information
  4. Wikipedia.org - Juno (spacecraft)
  5. Space.com by Mike Wall - Mysteries at Jupiter: NASA's Juno Probe Reveals Cyclones, Auroras & Surprises
  6. CBSNews.com by William Harwood - Juno probe reveals more of Jupiter's surprises
  7. BusinessInsider.com by Dave Mosher - NASA's $1 billion Jupiter probe has taken more stunning new images of the gas giant
  8. NationalPost.com by Kenneth Chang - A lot of our ideas were incorrect and maybe naive: NASA's Jupiter mission proves the scientists wrong
  9. PetaPixel.com by Michael Zhang - A Gorgeous Flyby of Jupiter Made with Photos from NASA’s Juno Spacecraft
  10. Telegraph.co.uk - Stunning new images of Jupiter from Nasa's Juno probe reveal 'Earth-sized' cyclone
  11. TheGuardian.com by Ian Sample - Nasa's Juno probe captures dramatic first close-up images of Jupiter

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Last updated 6 months ago on November 16, 2017 at 11:55 PM PST

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