NASA's Juno Spacecraft Reveals Unexpected Findings About Jupiter

Kathleen Villaluz

NASA's Juno spacecraft is revealing extraordinary new photos of Jupiter that completely surprised physicist and astronomers about the nature of the giant planet. The American aerospace agency is publishing two papers this week about the discoveries in the journal Science and a further 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters.

[Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles]

It's been such a long odyssey for the spacecraft to reach the red-eyed planet but the mission's intents have so far been satisfied and this is what Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington has to say:

"We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating. It was a long trip to get to Jupiter, but these first results already demonstrate it was well worth the journey".

Juno's Jupiter findings

One of the challenging revelations of Juno's imager, JunoCam, is that the two poles of Jupiter are enveloped in Earth-sized swirling storms. The storms are shown to be densely clustered and rubbing together. Juno's principal investigator, Scott Bolton, ponders on this outer space phenomenon happening in Jupiter. "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. 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?"

Juno's Microwave Radiometer (MWR) also revealed a surprising discovery from the gas giant. The MWR equipment samples the thermal microwave radiation from the planet's atmosphere, right above the ammonia clouds to deep within its atmosphere. It revealed that Jupiter's striking belts and zones are encrypted with mystery as the belt near the planet's equator penetrates all the way down but the belts and zones at various latitudes transform to other structures.

[Image Source: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran]

Before launching the Juno mission, Jupiter's magnetic field is known to be the most intense in our solar system. But now, from Juno's magnetometer investigation (MAG), it is found that the planet's magnetic field is much more intense compared to theoretical models with a more irregular shape. The data collected by MAG also indicates that the magnetic field exceeds previous values at 7.766 Gauss, which is ten times stronger than the strongest magnetic field on Earth. This discovery brings NASA closer to the origins of Jupiter's dynamo according to Jack Connerney, deputy principal investigator of the Juno mission.

"Juno is giving us a view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before. 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".

Currently, Juno is in a polar orbit around Jupiter and is planned to transmit more new photos and data 588 million km away from Earth. To learn more about Juno's recent Jupiter discoveries visit NASA's website and Juno's mission page.

Sources: NASA, Juno Mission

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