Our Juno spacecraft has just released some exciting new science from its first close flyby of Jupiter!
In case you don’t know, the Juno spacecraft entered orbit around the gas giant on July 4, 2016…about a year ago. Since then, it has been collecting data and images from this unique vantage point.
Juno is in a polar orbit around Jupiter, which means that the majority of each orbit is spent well away from the gas giant. But once every 53 days its trajectory approaches Jupiter from above its north pole, where it begins a close two-hour transit flying north to south with its eight science instruments collecting data and its JunoCam camera snapping pictures.
Space Fact: The download of six megabytes of data collected during the two-hour transit can take one-and-a-half days!
Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments are helping us get a better understanding of the processes happening on Jupiter. These new results portray the planet as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world that we still need to study and unravel its mysteries.
So what did this first science flyby tell us? Let’s break it down…
1. Tumultuous Cyclones
Juno’s imager, JunoCam, has showed us that both of Jupiter’s poles are covered in tumultuous cyclones and anticyclone storms, densely clustered and rubbing together. Some of these storms as large as Earth!
These storms are still puzzling. We’re still not exactly sure how they formed or how they interact with each other. Future close flybys will help us better understand these mysterious cyclones.
Seen above, waves of clouds (at 37.8 degrees latitude) dominate this three-dimensional Jovian cloudscape. JunoCam obtained this enhanced-color picture on May 19, 2017, at 5:50 UTC from an altitude of 5,500 miles (8,900 kilometers). Details as small as 4 miles (6 kilometers) across can be identified in this image.
An even closer view of the same image shows small bright high clouds that are about 16 miles (25 kilometers) across and in some areas appear to form “squall lines” (a narrow band of high winds and storms associated with a cold front). On Jupiter, clouds this high are almost certainly comprised of water and/or ammonia ice.
2. Jupiter’s Atmosphere
Juno’s Microwave Radiometer is an instrument that samples the thermal microwave radiation from Jupiter’s atmosphere from the tops of the ammonia clouds to deep within its atmosphere.
Data from this instrument suggest that the ammonia is quite variable and continues to increase as far down as we can see with MWR, which is a few hundred kilometers. In the cut-out image below, orange signifies high ammonia abundance and blue signifies low ammonia abundance. Jupiter appears to have a band around its equator high in ammonia abundance, with a column shown in orange.
Why does this ammonia matter? Well, ammonia is a good tracer of other relatively rare gases and fluids in the atmosphere…like water. Understanding the relative abundances of these materials helps us have a better idea of how and when Jupiter formed in the early solar system.
This instrument has also given us more information about Jupiter’s iconic belts and zones. Data suggest that the belt near Jupiter’s equator penetrates all the way down, while the belts and zones at other latitudes seem to evolve to other structures.
3. Stronger-Than-Expected Magnetic Field
Prior to Juno, it was known that Jupiter had the most intense magnetic field in the solar system…but measurements from Juno’s magnetometer investigation (MAG) indicate that the gas giant’s magnetic field is even stronger than models expected, and more irregular in shape.
At 7.766 Gauss, it is about 10 times stronger than the strongest magnetic field found on Earth! What is Gauss? Magnetic field strengths are measured in units called Gauss or Teslas. A magnetic field with a strength of 10,000 Gauss also has a strength of 1 Tesla.
Juno is giving us a unique view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before. For example, data from the spacecraft (displayed in the graphic above) suggests that the planet’s magnetic field is “lumpy”, meaning its stronger in some places and weaker in others. This uneven distribution suggests that the field might be generated by dynamo action (where the motion of electrically conducting fluid creates a self-sustaining magnetic field) closer to the surface, above the layer of metallic hydrogen. Juno’s orbital track is illustrated with the black curve.
4. Sounds of Jupiter
Juno also observed plasma wave signals from Jupiter’s ionosphere. This movie shows results from Juno’s radio wave detector that were recorded while it passed close to Jupiter. Waves in the plasma (the charged gas) in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter have different frequencies that depend on the types of ions present, and their densities.
Mapping out these ions in the jovian system helps us understand how the upper atmosphere works including the aurora. Beyond the visual representation of the data, the data have been made into sounds where the frequencies and playback speed have been shifted to be audible to human ears.
5. Jovian “Southern Lights”
The complexity and richness of Jupiter’s “southern lights” (also known as auroras) are on display in this animation of false-color maps from our Juno spacecraft. Auroras result when energetic electrons from the magnetosphere crash into the molecular hydrogen in the Jovian upper atmosphere. The data for this animation were obtained by Juno’s Ultraviolet Spectrograph.
During Juno’s next flyby on July 11, the spacecraft 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.
STRINGS Violin - Are you a perfectionist? Viola - What makes you different? Cello - Favourite place to be? Double Bass - How do you like to relax? Acoustic Guitar - What instruments do you play? Electric Guitar - Do you experience synesthesia? Electric Bass - What do you want to study? Electric Cello - Favourite composer? Electric Violin - Have you ever been in a musical/play? Harp - Favourite piece you’ve played? Ukulele - Are you a good performer? Sitar - Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Balalaika - Do you enjoy playing sports? Mandolin - Who inspires you?
WOODWINDS Piccolo - Describe your personality Flute - Have you ever gone overseas? Oboe - Favourite kind of weather? Cor Anglais - Introvert, ambivert, or extrovert? Clarinet - How much time do you spend online? Bass Clarinet - Favourite item of clothing? Bassoon - Do you enjoy online shopping? Contrabassoon - Are you brave? Bass Flute - Can you dance? Soprano Saxophone - How many times have you broken a bone? Alto Saxophone - Have you ever pulled an all nighter? Tenor Saxophone - Favourite film? Baritone Saxophone - Describe your dream bedroom
BRASS French Horn - Where are you from? Mellophone - Favourite musical? Trumpet - What makes you happy? Slide Trumpet - Do you like being outdoors? Cornet - Favourite genre of music? Flugelhorn - How do you feel about your past? Bugle - Would you ever join the army? Trombone - Describe your dream meal Valve Trombone - Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? Bass Trombone - Are you reliable? Tenor Horn - What do you aspire to be? Baritone Horn - Do you have perfect pitch? Euphonium - Favourite food? Sousaphone - Who is your hero? Tuba - How/Why did you join Tumblr?
OTHER AEROPHONES Melodica - Do people consider you annoying? Harmonica - What makes you laugh? Accordion - Favourite Tumblr blog? Air Horn - Are you good with kids? Ocarina - Do you know how to do CPR?
Whistle - Favourite smell?
Slide Whistle - What TV shows have you binge-watched? Didgeridoo - Tell a funny story!
Recorder - How well did you do in school?
PERCUSSION Xylophone - Do you like classical music? Marimba - What’s your ringtone? Glockenspiel - Are you talkative? Bongos - Can you jumpstart a car? Wood Block - Describe your dream house Snare Drum - Favourite colour? Bass Drum - Would you want to be able to read minds? Timpani - Do you enjoy meeting new people? Gong - Are you a loud or soft person? Triangle - Could you imagine being the President/Prime Minister? Steel Drum - Favourite season?
SIGNAL BOOST THIS PLEASE !!! My ukulele was stolen. My dad made it for me. It is a one of a kind. My dads name is Eenor Wildeboar. My name is Ola’i Manu Mele // Lali Wilde. This instrument is my most prized possession. I love it dearly. My email is email@example.com
After 8 years of
designing, building, and testing, NASA scientists and engineers from NASA’s
Goddard Space Flight Center said goodbye to their tiny chemistry lab and
shipped it to Italy in a big pink box. Building a tiny instrument capable of
conducting chemical analysis is difficult in any setting, but designing one
that has to launch on a huge
rocket, fly through the vacuum of space, and then operate on a planet
with entirely different pressure and temperature systems? That’s herculean. And
once on Mars, MOMA has a very important job to do. NASA Goddard Center Director
Chris Scolese said, “This is the first intended life-detecting instrument that
we have sent to Mars since Viking.”
The MOMA instrument will be capable of detecting a wide variety of
organic molecules. Organic compounds are commonly associated with life, although
they can be created by non-biological processes as well. Organic molecules
contain carbon and hydrogen, and can include oxygen, nitrogen, and other
To find these molecules on Mars, the MOMA team had to take
instruments that would normally occupy a couple of workbenches in a chemistry
lab and shrink them down to roughly the size of a toaster oven so they would be
practical to install on a rover.
MOMA-MS, the mass spectrometer on the ExoMars rover, will build on
the accomplishments from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), an
instrument suite on the Curiosity rover that
includes a mass spectrometer. SAM collects and analyzes samples from just below
the surface of Mars while ExoMars will be the first to explore deep beneath the
surface, with a drill capable of taking samples from as deep as two meters
(over six feet). This is important because Mars’s thin atmosphere and spotty
magnetic field offer little protection from space radiation, which can
gradually destroy organic molecules exposed on the surface. However, Martian
sediment is an effective shield, and the team expects to find greater
abundances of organic molecules in samples from beneath the surface.
On completion of the instrument, MOMA Project Scientist Will
Brinckerhoff praised his colleagues, telling them, “You have had the right
balance of skepticism, optimism, and ambition. Seeing this come together has
made me want to do my best.”
In addition to the launch of the ESA and Roscosmos ExoMars
Rover, in 2020, NASA plans to launch the Mars 2020 Rover, to search for signs
of past microbial life. We are all looking forward to seeing what these two
missions will find when they arrive on our neighboring planet.