Incoming! We’ve Got Science from Jupiter!

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.

Stay updated on all things Juno and Jupiter by following along on social media:
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Learn more about the Juno spacecraft and its mission at Jupiter HERE.

Instrument Asks

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?

Sounding Rocket Science in the Arctic

We sent three suborbital sounding rockets right into the auroras above Alaska on the evening of March 1 local time from the Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks, Alaska.  

Sounding rockets are suborbital rockets that fly up in an arc and immediately come back down, with a total flight time around 20 minutes. 

Though these rockets don’t fly fast enough to get into orbit around Earth, they still give us valuable information about the sun, space, and even Earth itself. Sounding rockets’ low-cost access to space is also ideal for testing instruments for future satellite missions.

Sounding rockets fly above most of Earth’s atmosphere, allowing them to see certain types of light – like extreme ultraviolet and X-rays – that don’t make it all the way to the ground because they are absorbed by the atmosphere. These kinds of light give us a unique view of the sun and processes in space.

The sun seen in extreme ultraviolet light by the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite.

Of these three rockets, two were part of the Neutral Jets in Auroral Arcs mission, collecting data on winds influenced by the electric fields related to auroras. Sounding rockets are the perfect vehicle for this type of study, since they can fly directly through auroras – which exist in a region of Earth’s upper atmosphere too high for scientific balloons, but too low for satellites.

The third rocket that launched on March 1 was part of the ISINGLASS mission (short for Ionospheric Structuring: In Situ and Ground-based Low Altitude Studies). ISINGLASS included two rockets designed to launch into two different types of auroras in order to collect detailed data on their structure, with the hope of better understanding the processes that create auroras. The initial ISINGLASS rocket launched a few weeks earlier, on Feb. 22, also from the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska.

Auroras are caused when charged particles trapped in Earth’s vast magnetic field are sent raining down into the atmosphere, usually triggered by events on the sun that propagate out into space. 

Team members at the range had to wait until conditions were just right until they could launch – including winds, weather, and science conditions. Since these rockets were studying aurora, that means they had to wait until the sky was lit up with the Northern Lights.

Regions near the North and South Pole are best for studying the aurora, because the shape of Earth’s magnetic field naturally funnels aurora-causing particles near the poles. 

But launching sensitive instruments near the Arctic Circle in the winter has its own unique challenges. For example, rockets have to be insulated with foam or blankets every time they’re taken outside – including while on the launch pad – because of the extremely low temperatures.

For more information on sounding rockets, visit www.nasa.gov/soundingrockets.

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How to Practice Effectively

Mastering any physical skill, be it performing a pirouette, playing an instrument, or throwing a baseball, takes practice. Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement, and it helps us perform with more ease, speed, and confidence. 

There are many theories that attempt to quantify the number of hours, days, and even years of practice that it takes to master a skill. While we don’t yet have a magic number, we do know that mastery isn’t simply about the amount of hours of practice. It’s also the quality and effectiveness of that practice. Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused, and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities. So if effective practice is the key, how can we get the most out of our practice time? 

Below are 4 tips for practicing better for just about anything!

1. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize potential distractions by turning off the computer or TV and putting your cell phone on airplane mode. In one study, researchers observed 260 students studying. On average, those students were able to stay on task for only six minutes at a time. Laptops, smartphones, and particularly Facebook were the root of most distractions. 

2. Start out slowly or in slow-motion. Coordination is built with repetitions, whether correct or incorrect. If you gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitons, you have a better chance of doing them correctly. 

3. Next, frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers. Studies have shown that many top athletes, musicians, and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft. Many divide their time used for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration. 

4. Finally, practice in your brain in vivid detail. It’s a bit surprising, but a number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it. In one study, 144 basketball players were divided into two groups. Group A physically practiced one-handed free throws while Group B only mentally practiced them. When they were tested at the end of the two week experiment, the intermediate and experienced players in both groups had improved by nearly the same amount. 

As scientists get closer to unraveling the secrets of our brains, our understanding of effective practice will only improve. In the meantime, effective practice is the best way we have of pushing our individual limits, achieving new heights, and maximizing our potential.

From the TED-Ed Lesson How to practice effectively…for just about anything - Annie Bosler and Don Greene

Animation by Martina Meštrović