NASA’s Juno mission just released the initial results of its Jupiter probe, prompting scientists to rethink their entire assessment of the gas giant, NASA reports.
Led by Southwest Research Institute’s Dr. Scott Brown, NASA’s Juno spacecraft was launched into space on August 5, 2011 and reached Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016, staying within 2,600 miles of the planet’s swirling cloud tops, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.
Equipped with eight scientific instruments designed to study the gas giant’s structure, atmosphere, and magnetic fields, the solar-powered spacecraft has delivered its first wave of results.
The results of Juno’s initial probe of Jupiter have been published today in the journal Science and in 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters, encompassing more than two dozen reports.
While the initial set of data barely scratches the surface of Jupiter’s many mysteries, what scientists have already learned have been “Jupiter-shattering,” to borrow the term used by Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator.
“What we’ve learned so far is earth-shattering. Or should I say, Jupiter-shattering,” he said. “Discoveries about its core, composition, magnetosphere, and poles are as stunning as the photographs the mission is generating.”
“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.”
The initial set of data released by NASA’s Juno probe reveal that Jupiter’s famous belts are stranger and more turbulent than previously thought. According to the data, the big belts near Jupiter’s equator reach all the way down, while the smaller belts and zones continually evolve into other structures. Images also show that Jupiter’s bands don’t continue to the north and south poles, and are comprised of Texas-sized ammonia cyclones. Scientists are also wondering about the mysterious mechanisms that make it possible for these miasma of storms to become stable. That said, scientists are looking forward to answering these questions as the Juno mission progresses.
“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 surprising discovery has something to do with Jupiter’s magnetosphere. Scientists already know before they launched NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter that the gas giant has the strongest magnetic field in the entire solar system. According to the measurements released via Juno’s magnetometer investigation (MAG), the massive planet’s magnetic field is even stronger than scientists previously thought, not to mention more vaguely shaped. MAG data results show that Jupiter’s magnetic field is measured at 7.776 Gauss — about ten times stronger than the strongest magnetic field detected on Earth.
“Juno is giving us a view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before,” said NASA astrophysicist Jack Connerney. “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.”
While Juno continually orbits around Jupiter, it only comes closer to the gas giant once every 53 days, with its trajectory approaching the massive planet from above its north pole. From there, it travels from north to south for two hours as its eight instruments gather data and its JunoCam snap pictures.
“Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new,” Bolton said. “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 was launched by the New Frontiers Program under the management of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]