Jupiter, it turns out, is even more wonderfully complicated than earth's scientists had previously imagined. NASA's Juno Mission has resulted in the first flurry of research papers that look to find clues to the beginnings of our galaxy in a better understanding of the solar system's largest planet.
The first series of science findings were announced Thursday, May 25, with several papers describing the mission's early date published online by the journal Science and Geophysical Research Letters.
Previously, it was known that many of Jupiter's features that were visible via telescope involved storms in the gassy clouds that form the giant planet's outer limits. The image of Jupiter's south pole was taken at an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). What looks like ovals are actualy cyclones up to 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) in diameter. Thanks to Juno's data, we now know that cyclones the size of planet Earth churn through the thick clouds of gas down to the planet's surface.
The Juno Mission
Juno left the Earth on August 5, 2011, and reached Jupiter's orbit after a series of complex maneuvers on July 4, 2016. The results of the first data gathering pass, took place on August 27, 2016, and so far, has left scientists with more questions than answers. Among them are the startling images of Jupiter's poles, which consist of a swirling mass of interconnected storms. Measurements of Jupiter's magnetic radiation also offered surprises. The magnetic field is stronger than expected -- ten times that of the strongest magnetic field you'd find here on Earth -- and irregular in shape.
These early findings alone have NASA scientists looking in new directions in their research. In a media release, Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, says, "There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.”
Once established in orbit, the Juno spacecraft sweeps through the gas clouds towards the planet's surface from pole to pole once every 53 days. This image sequence captures what JunoCam saw as it sped past the gassy giant on one of its passes. The images are color enhanced, and taken over a two hour period from a distance within 2,600 miles of the cloud tops. At the left, it begins with the north pole at about the center of the first image. By the eighth or ninth, Juno's trajectory is following the equator and the perspective changes to the brighter southern hemisphere. In the ninth to 11th images, you can see a series of white ovals in the southern hemisphere dubbed the "string of pearls".