Published: Thu, June 01, 2017
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

NASA's Juno Probe Reveals Cyclones, Auroras & Surprises — Mysteries at Jupiter


The Juno mission, which launched in 2011 and began its first orbit past year, allows scientists to view Jupiter in new ways because of its highly elliptical orbit; it passes over the planet's poles and dives within 5,000 kilometers of its cloud tops.

"What we've learned so far is Earth-shattering".

"It does look like Jupiter has a core, but it's very large", said Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator based at the Southwest Research Institute. The leader for the second study was John Connerney, who is with NASA's Sciences and Exploration Directorate.

Juno is mapping Jupiter's gravitational and magnetic fields to better understand the planet's interior structure and measure the mass of the core. It will continue to do this work, barring some sort of malfunction, through at least February 2018, the end of Juno's primary mission.

Juno launched in August 2011 but didn't arrive at Jupiter until July.

Juno has now made five of these data-collecting "perijove passes".

It's been almost a year since NASA probe Juno entered orbit around Jupiter in July 2016. It's the first spacecraft to get a close-up look at the planet's poles. These mysterious regions are attractive and freaky, the Bolton-led study reports.

"That's the Jupiter we've all known and grown to love", Bolton said. It nearly looks like meteor craters, but, of course, it's all atmosphere. A time-lapse of the images captured by Juno has revealed that these oval features are in fact massive cyclones - some of which reach diameters of 1,400 km across. Juno, Bolton said, is fundamentally changing how we perceive giant planets, that they're possibly a lot more complex than we thought.

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Just as intriguing will be how fast these super cyclones are moving.

The data show there's more ammonia near the equator than there is at other latitudes.

NASA's Juno orbiter has been sending back stunning pictures of Jupiter for months, but now the mission's scientists are sharing their first peer-reviewed findings about the planet's previously unseen polar storms and powerful magnetic field.

Juno's measurements during the first few close passes also show that Jupiter's magnetic field is almost two times stronger than scientists had predicted. And the probe's gravity data suggest that "there's a lot of odd, deep motions that possibly are going on inside of Jupiter", Bolton said.

"That's not what Juno is showing us", Lunine says. "And they're fabulous because they're not what we expected. It's possible that they formed differently than [suggested by] our simple ideas".

The southern lights of Jupiter, auroras at the planet's south pole, glow in this animation of false-color images from NASA's Juno spacecraft. The red hues suggest emissions from deeper in Jupiter's atmosphere, while green and white indicate higher regions. Unlike the Earth, where aurorae are powered by the magnetosphere's interactions with the solar wind, Jupiter's aurorae seem to be at least partially tied to Jupiter's rotation. That analysis may take a little longer, Bolton said.

Juno is expected to make about two dozen more close passes over Jupiter's poles, so there'll likely be more puzzles to come. Once again, there were some surprises.

Some of those puzzles and mysteries are pretty obscure.For example, there's some startling new data about the spectacular auroras at the poles of Jupiter - which are like the Northern Lights on Earth but much more dazzling. If we just saw what we expected, it would be 'ho hum, ho hum, that's good but, you know, '.

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