The amazing thing about science is that it’s always trying to prove itself wrong. Well, quite often it does just that. That appears to be the case with how we perceive Jupiter based on data recovered from the Juno mission.
The data seems to have turned what we know almost on its head. Challenging what we know about the biggest planet in our Solar System and forcing scientists to revaluate their understanding. Unexpected finds include what we thought it would look like on the inside, the strength of its magnetic field, and what its poles look like. Of course, all of this information doesn’t just have an impact on our understanding of Jupiter but it also affects how we understand the solar system as a whole.
Juno has been orbiting our solar system’s largest planet since last July. Its orbits take just over 53 days to complete. The first batch of results has been released in Science Today. Scott Bolton who heads up the Juno mission indicated that after the findings some things need correcting
going through changes
What are the things that need to be looked at? Let’s start by investigating Bolton’s paper. Back in August Juno passed over Jupiter’s poles. It was roughly 5000km above the clouds and the first craft to ever see this region of the planet. Interestingly throughout the rest of the planet storms seems to be separated into various bands (which is what gives Jupiter its unique appearance.) However, at the poles, it appears that there are several meteor craters. Weird eh?
Well, it would be if they were actually meteor craters, which of course they’re not! They are actually intense cyclones. This is obviously the first time we have got to look at Jupiter’s poles this way and is a complete surprise. It’s so far removed from the poles on Saturn which are primarily dominated by large hexagonal shaped storms. Jupiter looks much different to this.
Juno spotted another unexpected phenomenon as it passed over Jupiter. It discovered huge cyclones rising above the tops of Jupiter’s clouds. These were up to 7000 km across! It was so large that it cast a menacing shadow over the underlying cloud. Scientists have been completely taken aback by the phenomena.
Now to the aforementioned magnetic field. Juno has a magnetometer (no prizes for guessing what that does!) and it’s been using it to measure the planets magnetic field. Surprisingly it has reached up to 7.766 Gauss in some spots. This is twice as strong as scientists had predicted it would be. To put that number into perspective it is ten times more powerful than earth’s magnetic field.
On earth, the way that our magnetic fields react with the solar winds is what causes the stunning auroras our poles.
Things are very different on Jupiter though. Whilst the solar winds do have an effect on the aurorae, Jupiter’s own rotation has a much bigger role to play. When Juno viewed the southern pole it discovered that a series of downward travelling electron beams are the likely source of its aurorae.
Juno has obviously already provided us with a much better understanding of the gas giant, but ultimately it’s the primary goal is to discover whether or not the planet has a solid core. This discovery would lay a foundation for our understanding of the entire solar system and beyond. Most scientists predict that there should be something solid at its core but nobody knows for sure.
Although this mission was set to be completed by the end of this year the exciting findings have prompted NASA to continue the project which may now continue up to 2021. One can only hope that its future is equally exciting.