Juno mission gets new project manager as spacecraft completes eighth science flyby of Jupiter

Illustration of Juno near Jupiter, which combines real images of the planet from the spacecraft with Juno artistically “added in.” Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has successfully completed its eighth science flyby of Jupiter, passing over the gas giant’s swirling cloud tops once again as it continues to unravel the mysteries of the largest planet in the Solar System. The mission itself also now has a new project manager, who will oversee the continuing flow of information being sent back, which has already greatly expanded our knowledge of Jupiter, upending some theories and presenting new questions.

“All the science collected during the flyby was carried in Juno’s memory until yesterday, when Jupiter came out of solar conjunction,” said the new Juno project manager, Ed Hirst, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “All science instruments and the spacecraft’s JunoCam were operating, and the new data are now being transmitted to Earth and being delivered into the hands of our science team.”

The flyby actually occurred on Oct. 24, (Perijove 9) but the confirmation of its success was delayed until Oct. 31 by the solar conjunction, which interrupts communications between the spacecraft and Earth.

New enhanced view of Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, from the most recent flyby on Oct. 24, 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Björn Jónsson
New enhanced view of Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, from the most recent flyby on Oct. 24, 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Björn Jónsson
New enhanced view of Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, from the most recent flyby on Oct. 24, 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Björn Jónsson

Juno has been busy orbiting Jupiter since July 4, 2016, using its instruments to study the planet’s atmosphere, clouds and auroras. At its closest, the spacecraft passes within 3,400 kilometres (2,100 miles) of Jupiter’s cloud tops, providing unprecedented views of the turbulent atmosphere, which often looks like it was painted by a cosmic watercolour artist.

“There is no more exciting place to be than in orbit around Jupiter and no team I’d rather be with than the Juno team,” said Hirst. “Our spacecraft is in great shape, and the team is looking forward to many more flybys of the Solar System’s largest planet.”

Juno previously found that Jupiter’s auroras seem to “defy earthly laws of physics” and are much more powerful than any on Earth. The auroras have also been studied more recently by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The data from Juno has also shown that Jupiter is more complex internally than previously thought, with current theories being turned on their heads.

New Chandra image comparison of auroras seen at Jupiter’s north and south poles. Image Credit: X-ray – NASA/CXC/UCL/W.Dunn et al; Optical, South Pole – NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran; North Pole – NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS
Jupiter as seen by Juno on Oct. 24, 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SwRI/Kevin M. Gill
Jupiter as seen by Juno on Oct. 24, 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SwRI/Kevin M. Gill
Earlier image showing closest-ever view of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot from Juno. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SwRI/Kevin M. Gill

“Almost nothing is as we anticipated,” Juno’s principal investigator Scott Bolton earlier told WIRED. “But it’s exciting that Jupiter is so different than we assumed.”

Juno was first launched on Oct. 5, 2011, and is the first spacecraft to visit Jupiter since Galileo, which ended its mission on Sept. 21, 2003 by intentionally plummeting into Jupiter’s atmosphere, much like the Cassini probe did at Saturn last September.

Ed Hirst is the new project manager for Juno, who has worked on the mission since the beginning, and also worked on the Galileo, Stardust and Genesis missions. He replaces Rick Nybakken, who was recently appointed deputy director for JPL’s Office of Safety and Mission Success.

Juno’s next close flyby of Jupiter will be on Dec. 16, 2017.

This article was first published on AmericaSpace.

 

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Juno finds Jupiter’s powerful auroras ‘defy earthly laws of physics’

Auroras at Jupiter’s north pole, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Juno’s observations show that they are much more powerful than previously thought. Photo Credit: ASA/ESA/J. Nichols/University of Leicester

Although NASA’s Cassini mission is now coming to an end at Saturn, the Juno spacecraft is continuing to orbit Jupiter, sending back an incredible amount of science and stunning images of the largest planet in our Solar System. The results have scientists excited, since not only are they providing more insight and adding to what we know about Jupiter, they are also showing how the planet is a lot different than had been assumed. This includes the planet’s polar auroras, which seem to behave different from would be expected, based on what is known about auroras on Earth.

“Almost nothing is as we anticipated,” Juno’s principal investigator Scott Bolton had previously told WIRED. “But it’s exciting that Jupiter is so different than we assumed.”

The data that Juno has continued to collect since then confirms and builds upon those findings. A lot of previous theories about Jupiter have been shown to be wrong, as often happens in any mission such as this, but that is a good thing.

Unearthly light show: auroras at Jupiter’s south pole as seen by Juno. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI

“The data’s telling us our ideas are all wrong,” says Randy Gladstone, lead investigator of Juno’s ultraviolet spectrograph. “But that’s fun.”

Jupiter is a complex planet, and thanks to Juno, we now know it is even more complex than first thought. As reported earlier, it is now a “whole new world.” The planet’s auroras are one good example. Scientists had expected them to be about 10 – 30 times stronger than those on Earth, but according to Juno, they are a hundred times more powerful. That’s a fascinating problem, since according to what we know about them on Earth, they shouldn’t be; they are essentially “defying Earthly laws of physics.”

“Basically, the aurora is a factor of 10 brighter than it should be based on Earth-like physics,” Mauk said.

Stunning view of Jupiter from Juno. Image Credit: NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran
New close-up view of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot from Juno. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SwRI/Kevin M. Gill
An even closer view, also showing more of the surrounding cloud formations. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SwRI/Kevin M. Gill
View of Jupiter’s south pole, in enhanced colour, as seen by Juno during its fourth flyby on Feb. 2, 2017. Many cyclone-type storms can be seen in the image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/John Landino

Juno has also observed numerous cyclone-type storms at Jupiter’s poles, in unprecedented detail, and found that the cloud belt closest to the equator, easily seen in small telescopes, extends much further down into the atmosphere than previously thought. The findings also show that Jupiter’s atmosphere is much more irregular in structure than previously known, with a “fuzzy core.”

Juno also recently took the closest-ever images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a gigantic long-lived storm in the atmosphere.

“Jupiter’s mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter,”  said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “This monumental storm has raged on the Solar System’s biggest planet for centuries. Now, Juno and her cloud-penetrating science instruments will dive in to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special.”

More information about the Juno mission is available here and here.

This article was first published on AmericaSpace.

 

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Remembering Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s impact on Jupiter, 23 years ago this week

View of Jupiter from the Hubble Space Telescope after the impact of one of the largest fragments from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994. Photo Credit: NASA/STScI

Jupiter has been in the news a lot lately, with the Juno spacecraft continuing to send back stunning new images of the largest planet in the Solar System, including close-ups of the Great Red Spot. But something else happened at this time 23 years ago which captured astronomers’ and the public’s attention – a huge explosion in Jupiter’s atmosphere as a comet broke apart and the fragments collided with the planet, plummeting into the deep, thick atmosphere. The impacts and resulting “scars” were observed by telescopes around the world.

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Juno reveals Solar System’s largest storm like never seen before

One of the first new images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SwRI/Kevin M. Gill

Last Monday, July 10, NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew directly over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot for the first time, providing the closest views ever of this gigantic storm system which is much larger than Earth in size. While the science data collected has been streaming back to Earth, what most people have been waiting for of course are the images. The first ones had been expected around Friday this week, but they actually became available yesterday – and as anticipated, they are fantastic!

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A stormy, turbulent world: New science results from Juno reveal ‘whole new Jupiter’

Jupiter in all its glory: stunning view from Juno showing intricate details in the atmosphere of the gas giant. Image Credit: NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

The first in-depth science results from the Juno mission at Jupiter were presented yesterday morning in a NASA media teleconference, and as referred to in the press release, they do indeed reveal “a whole new Jupiter.” The Solar System’s largest planet is incredibly active and complex, with polar cyclone storm systems as large as Earth, other storms which plunge deep down into the atmosphere and an immense, but lumpy, magnetic field. Juno has sent back the most detailed images ever taken of the planet, showing the atmospheric storms and other features, including Jupiter’s rings, as never before.

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