Will Juno Unravel Jupiter’s Mystery?
July 17, 2017
The first ever close-up images of Jupiter’s gargantuan hurricane, the Great Red Spot, are beginning to trickle through from NASA’s Juno spacecraft after it completed its historic fly-by a few days ago.
THE GREAT RED SPOT
It’s actually a high-pressure storm. The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is believed to be solar system’s largest storm being 16,000-km-wide, big enough to swallow three Earths. Models predict the storm gets its reddish hues due to hydrogen, sulphur and ammonia-based compounds. Studied by astronomers since 1600s, an exact cause of the swirling storm with winds peaking at 640 kmph is still not ascertained. Winds in the Great Red Spot flow counterclockwise.
Juno is a NASA space probe orbiting the planet Jupiter. It was built by Lockheed Martin and is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Juno’s mission is to measure Jupiter’s composition, gravity field, magnetic field, and polar magnetosphere. It will also search for clues about how the planet formed, including whether it has a rocky core, the amount of water present within the deep atmosphere, mass distribution, and its deep winds, which can reach speeds of 618 kilometers per hour. After completing its mission, Juno will be intentionally deorbited into Jupiter’s atmosphere.
WHAT DID JUNO FIND?
Traveling at about 50 kilometres per second, Juno flew within 9,000 kilometres of the billowing brick-red cloud tops of the hurricane, which has been raging for at least 200 years. The first raw pictures were released online, with NASA encouraging enthusiasts to process and enhance the colours and crop the images to highlight different aspects. They show a roiling orange cauldron of clouds 16,000 kilometres wide over a turbulent world with huge polar cyclones and aurora.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
Scientists are hoping the Juno mission will provide insight into how the massive planet, and the solar system, evolved. But Jupiter’s dense clouds cover along with the most dangerous radiation belt in the solar system, which could fry Juno’s electronics. Hence, it is no easy feat.
JUNO & JUPITER
In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief. It was Jupiter’s wife, the goddess Juno, who was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature. The Juno spacecraft will also look beneath the clouds to see what the planet is up to, not seeking signs of misbehavior, but helping us to understand the planet’s structure and history.