First results from Jupiter probe show huge magnetism and storms

May 5, 2017

By Andy Coghlan

Big planets come with big surprises. Last week, delegates at the annual European Geosciences Union meeting got the first glimpse of data from the Juno spacecraft now in orbit around Jupiter, and the findings are already challenging assumptions about everything from the planet’s atmosphere to its interior.

“The whole inside of Jupiter is just working differently than our models expected,” said mission principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in Texas.

Launched on 5 August 2011, Juno reached Jupiter and began its first orbit on 4 July last year. Since then, it has performed four more circuits. There are 33 planned pole-to-pole circuits in all, encircling the entire planet bit by bit.

The findings presented in Vienna come from these first few circuits, which each last 53 Earth days and include a 6-hour scan of the planet from north to south. Although the information is preliminary, the researchers involved are thrilled.

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2 comments on “First results from Jupiter probe show huge magnetism and storms

  • @OP – link – “We’ve known there’s a spike at the equator, but the new microwave data is showing that the spike goes way, way down into the abyss, 300 kilometres below the cloud,” says Leigh Fletcher of the University of Leicester, UK, who was not involved in the work. “It suggests ammonia is being distributed by a weather system that penetrates much deeper than anyone expected.”

    The findings are also challenging models of what’s inside the planet. We had assumed Jupiter has a uniform interior, with a shallow “crust” of liquid hydrogen overlying a thin layer where helium rains down. Under that is a much deeper layer of metallic hydrogen, with a smaller solid core around 70,000 kilometres down. Those assumptions were based on mapping the planet’s gravity.

    An assumption of regularity in the absence of data is a mistake, but until the data on complexity and irregularity became available, wild speculations would not have been helpful!

    But initial gravity measurements from Juno challenge the idea that the internal layers inside are completely regular in their make-up. “Jupiter’s molecular envelope is not uniform,” said Tristan Guillot of the University of the Cote d’Azur in France. “We assumed we could treat the envelope as global, but now, with the finer data, it appears less regular.”

    With the hugely different gravity, solar-radiation, pressures, temperatures , chemistry, and tidal forces, it should be no surprise that Jupiter’s structure is vastly different to that of Earth.
    Having said that, the structures in Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and mantle, are far from uniform!

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  • Now that the Juno probe is making riskier, closer passes over the planet, it is producing even higher resolution images than before! (see link)

    An American space agency probe has returned the most detailed pictures ever of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

    The Juno spacecraft passed over the giant storm on Monday as it continued with its series of close passes of the gaseous world.

    The pictures of the spot reveal the intricate nature of its swirls which encompass a region bigger than Earth.

    Juno’s instruments all acquired data during the pass which should now provide fresh insight on the storm.

    It has been a particularly long-lived feature on Jupiter, but there is evidence that the 16,350-km-wide oval has actually been shrinking of late.

    “For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorising about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a Nasa statement.

    “Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyse all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno’s eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present and future of the Great Red Spot.”

    Scientists describe the storm as something similar to a hurricane – but there are significant differences between that kind of storm on Earth and what we see at Jupiter. Many behaviours are not the same.

    For example, hurricanes on Earth quickly lose energy when they leave the ocean surface and pass over land – but on Jupiter, there is no land. Indeed, researchers are not even sure there exists any kind of hard surface under the planet’s clouds.

    This could be an explanation for why the spot has persisted for centuries. But Juno hopes to resolve such puzzles.

    It has the instrumentation to determine the precise chemical composition of the oval’s clouds, to sense their temperature and structure, and to measure how deep they go. There is a suspicion that the spot has very deep roots.

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