The universe keeps revealing its surprises as with some help from the Juno spacecraft, scientists have been able to better study Jupiter, the largest and possibly oldest planet in our solar system. Now, two recently released studies analyzed the preliminary data gathered by the NASA Juno mission.
Launched in August 2011, the Juno spacecraft reached its target and began orbiting on July 4th, 2016. It is set to continue doing so, if all goes according to plan, up until February 2018, when it will end its primary mission.
Juno, a solar-powered spacecraft, has been using all of its eight instruments to collect information on Jupiter. It has been analyzing its interior structure, composition, magnetic and gravitational fields. Most such measurements are carried out during its closest flybys to the planet. These take place once every 53.5 days and bring the spacecraft 3,100 miles close to the world’s poles. Juno completed five such passes.
The Juno Spacecraft has Been Beaming Back some Incredible Data
“What we’ve learned so far is Earth-shattering. Or should I say, Jupiter-shattering. “Discoveries about its core, composition, magnetosphere, and poles are as stunning as the photographs the mission is generating,” said Scott Bolton.
He is the Juno mission Principal Investigator and study lead for one of the new papers and co-author to the other.
Juno’s close encounters with Jupiter’s poles revealed the presence of huge cyclones raging in the area. If the poles themselves are not mysterious enough, the planet’s auroras are also apparently incredibly different from Earth’s own northern or southern lights.
Presently, the mission team is uncertain as to what causes the polar cyclones. The researchers are trying to find their source, and also if they are stable over extended periods of time. Or if they appear and disappear at will. The massive storms at the poles seem to be up to 870 miles wide.
Jupiter’s magnetic field is also seemingly twice as strong as predicted. The planet’s gravity seems to be stranger and more different than expected as well.
All in all, Bolton considers that the Juno spacecraft gathered data would be of great use to scientists. No previous human-made probe has ever gotten this close to the giant planet. Also, Bolton considers that the giant planets may have been “a little bit oversimplified”, and that they are more complex than believed.
Image Source: JPL/NASA