NASA’s Juno Mission Delivers The First Scientific Results

The Juno spacecraft has been in orbit around Jupiter since July 2016

“What we’ve learned so far is earth-shattering. Or should I say, Jupiter-shattering,” said Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator. “Discoveries about its core, composition, magnetosphere, and poles are as stunning as the photographs the mission is generating.”

The solar-powered spacecraft’s eight scientific instruments were created to study Jupiter’s interior arrangement, atmosphere, and magnetosphere. Two devices directed and developed by SwRI are working in concert to study Jupiter’s auroras, the best light show in the solar system. The Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) is a group of detectors finding the electrons and ions connected with Jupiter’s auroras. The Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVS) analyzes the auroras in UV light to study Jupiter’s upper atmosphere as well as the particles that collide with it. Jovian auroral procedures are proving perplexing, although scientists anticipated to find similarities to Earth’s auroras.

“Although many of the observations have terrestrial analogs, it appears that different processes are at work creating the auroras,” said SwRI’s Dr. Phil Valek, JADE instrument lead. “With JADE we’ve observed plasmas upwelling from the upper atmosphere to help populate Jupiter’s magnetosphere. However, the energetic particles associated with Jovian auroras are very different from those that power the most intense auroral emissions at Earth.”

Additionally astonishing, the signature bands in Jupiter vanish near its poles. Since the first observations of these zones and belts many decades in the past, scientists have wondered how much beneath the gas giant’s swirling fa├žade these characteristics remain.

“Yet, there is a north south asymmetry. The depths of the groups are spread unequally,” Bolton said. “We have found a narrow ammonia-rich plume in the equator. It resembles a deeper, more extensive variation of the air currents that rise from The Planet’s equator and create the trade winds.”

Juno is mapping Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields to get a measuremnet of the planet’s core and to better understand Earth ‘s interior arrangement. Scientists believe a dynamo — a rotating, convecting, electrically conducting fluid in the outer core in a planet — is the mechanism for creating the planetary magnetic fields.

“Juno’s gravitation field measurements differ significantly from that which we anticipated, which has consequences for the distribution of heavy elements in the inside, including the existence and mass of Jupiter’s center,” Bolton said. Nevertheless, the actual surprise was the striking spatial variation in the field, which was higher than anticipated in a few places, and noticeably lower in others. “We qualified the field to estimate the depth of the dynamo region, indicating that it might appear in a molecular hydrogen layer over the pressure-induced transition to the metallic state.”

These preliminary science results were published in two papers in a special edition of Science. Bolton is lead author of “Jupiter’s interior and deep atmosphere: The initial pole-to-pole passes with the Juno spacecraft.” SwRI’s Dr. Frederic Allegrini, Dr. Randy Gladstone, and Valek are co-authors of “Jupiter’s magnetosphere and aurorae observed by the Juno spacecraft during its first polar orbits”; lead author is Dr. John Connerney of the Space Research Corporation.

Juno is the next mission. The first was the SwRI-headed New Horizons mission, which is on its way to a brand-new target in the Kuiper Belt and supplied the first historical look at the Pluto system in July 2015. The spacecraft was assembled by Lockheed Martin of Denver. The Italian Space Agency given some of the radio science experiment along with an infrared spectrometer device.

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