Jupiter’s North Pole images arrived at Earth Friday after NASA’s Juno spacecraft made its first close flyby to the giant planet. Scientists are amazed by the incredible images that do not resemble what they knew about the largest planet in our solar system. The images showed Jupiter has auroras, and Juno managed to record their “sound.”
NASA’s Juno captured the images on August 27, the first pictures of the giant planet’s north pole. Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement that the north zone of the planet is bluer in color than any other part of the planet they have been studying. He continued and said there are a significant number of storms in the poles, and there is no sign of latitudinal bands or zone and belts which are usually seen in other planets north pole.
For example, Saturn has an enormous hexagonal storm swirling at its north pole. But Jupiter does not have such vortex, as it is shown in the new images. Bolton admits the first glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole looks like nothing the team has seen before.
Regarding clouds in the giant planet’s northern region, Bolton said the team is seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, which could mean the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.
Juno spacecraft is using the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) to capture views of the giant planet’s north and south poles in infrared light. JIRAM’s images revealed hot spots never seen before in other missions, according to scientists.
JIRAM also capture Jupiter’s auroras, which are similar to those that are present on Earth. Auroras are light displays that dance above the planet’s north and south polar regions, and Jupiter is no exception. The most powerful aurora in Jupiter’s south pole is called Jovian, and Juno team members said JIRAM got unprecedented looks at the dramatic light.
Jupiter’s auroras have something to say, and NASA’s Juno can listen
Alberto Adriani, of the Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali (Institute of Astrophysics and Space Planetology) in Rome, and JIRAM co-investigator, stated the infrared instrument is the first one to see the southern aurora. And now, with the data JIRAM collected, the team could see Jovian appears to be brilliant and well-structure. Adriani said the high level of detail in the images would tell the team the aurora’s morphology and dynamics.
Using the spacecraft Radio/Plasma Wave Experiment, Juno could also “hear” the giant planet’s auroras. The bright lights’ energetic particles generate a signature emissions which encircle Jupiter’s north pole.
The Radio/Plasma Wave experiment, known as Waves, could capture these emissions, which are stronger in our solar system. Waves co-investigator Bill Kurth, who is a research scientist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa, said the team will now try to discover where the electrons come from and what is generating them.
Juno’s observation are vital for scientists to understand Jupiter’s composition and structure better. Researchers want to know whether the giant planet harbors a core of heavy elements, and Juno’s flybys are believed to provide that information. NASA officials stated all data about Jupiter would not only help scientists to understand the planet’s composition but the origins of the solar system and planetary systems in general.
Next month, the spacecraft is scheduled to perform an engine burn to shift the probe into a 14-day-long orbit to continue its mission of gathering data. Juno’s close flybys are essential for what scientists need to study Jupiter’s poles. The good news is that the probe still has 36 more of this flybys to collect information.
The spacecraft will end its trip to Jupiter in 2018, with an intentional dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere that will destroy the probe.
Juno spacecraft: A journey that began in 2011
Juno mission launched in August 2011 and reached Jupiter in 2016, July 4. But after finally arriving at its destination, Juno’s instruments had to be turned off because mission team members did not want to waste energy. They wanted to focus on executing the make-or-break, 35-minute orbit-insertion burn.
The mission cost $1.1 billion, and it is the first probe to be powered by solar energy. In the past 30 years of space exploration, deep space probes used nuclear power generators to provide sufficient electricity to keep the spacecraft working in the cold solar system beyond Mars. But in the 21st century, scientists found a way to use solar power technology and replace nuclear energy.
Juno’s mission is not only about Jupiter’s north and south poles. The spacecraft has to study the planet’s deep structure, as it was said before, and it also has to map the planet’s gravity and magnetic fields. Juno’s instruments have to analyze electric fields as well, Jupiter’s plasma waves and particles in the world’s environment.
Juno is the ninth probe to go to Jupiter, and it is the second probe to orbit the planet.