Jupiter’s north pole ‘like nothing we’ve ever seen before’

5 Sep 201623 Shares

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Juno was about 78,000km above Jupiter’s polar cloud tops when it captured this view, showing storms and weather unlike anywhere else in the solar system. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

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The first detailed image of Jupiter’s north pole has been sent back to Earth from the Juno spacecraft. NASA has said that it’s something not replicated anywhere else in our solar system.

Storm systems and bizarre weather activities might sound like two features of Jupiter we shouldn’t consider ‘news’, given the gaseous make-up of the planet’s atmosphere.

However, according to NASA, Juno’s first full distribution of data since it started orbiting the planet with all scientific equipment booted up has revealed more than we expected.

Jupiter Juno

Orbiting just 4,200km above the giant planet’s stormy surface, Juno gathered 6MB worth of data. That data surprised researchers, primarily due to something Jupiter’s surface is lacking: a hexagon similar to that on Saturn.

The north pole on Saturn exhibits a hexagon-shaped persistent storm pattern, something many expected to see on Jupiter, too. That hasn’t proved to be the case.

With a blue hue and far more storms than expected, “it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno.

“There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to – this image is hardly recognisable as Jupiter,” he said.

“Saturn has a hexagon at the north pole,” said Bolton. “There is nothing on Jupiter that anywhere near resembles that. The largest planet in our solar system is truly unique.”

Juno was about 78,000km above Jupiter’s polar cloud tops when it captured this view, showing storms and weather unlike anywhere else in the solar system. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

The clouds spotted appear to have shadows, suggesting they are higher in altitude than previously thought. 36 more fly-bys are scheduled to study just how unique the planet really is.

Noise emanating from above the planet was recorded in this Juno fly-by, adding to the 60-year study on what NASA calls ‘ghostly transmissions’.

“Jupiter is talking to us in a way only gas-giant worlds can,” said Bill Kurth, who is working on the project.

“Waves detected the signature emissions of the energetic particles that generate the massive auroras which encircle Jupiter’s north pole. These emissions are the strongest in the solar system. Now we are going to try to figure out where the electrons come from that are generating them.”

This infrared image from Juno provides an unprecedented view of Jupiter’s southern aurora. Such views are not possible from Earth. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

This infrared image from Juno provides an unprecedented view of Jupiter’s southern aurora. Such views are not possible from Earth. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com