Juno probe reveals more of Jupiter’s surprises

NASA’s Juno spacecraft is finding a world of surprises as it orbits giant Jupiter, scientists said Thursday, from the turbulent upper atmosphere where countless cyclones churn across the poles to its deep interior where a larger-than-expected “fuzzy” core may lurk beneath a crushing layer of metallic hydrogen.

Data collected by Juno’s microwave radiometer reveal unexpected structure in the atmosphere up to 220 miles below the cloud tops — as deep as the instrument can “see” — and not the uniform mixing scientists had expected.

Juno’s instruments also indicate the dynamo driving Jupiter’s colossal magnetic field may be located closer to the cloud tops than previously expected, driving huge auroral displays apparently made up in part by electrons being pulled out of the atmosphere instead of the other way around as with auroras on Earth.

“We’re surprised, and in fact, all the data really points to the fact that we need the rest of our mission to figure out how Jupiter works,” said Scott Bolton, the Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute.

“The good news is that we also have confirmed that Juno is the right tool to do this, we have the right set of instruments, we have the right orbit, we actually are going to win over this beast, and we’re going to learn how it works. But it’s going to take time … to unravel the mysteries.”

Launched Aug 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Juno traveled a roundabout 1.7 billion miles to reach Jupiter, making a gravity-assist flyby of Earth in October 2013 to pick up enough speed to finally set off after its quarry. It successfully braked into a highly elliptical orbit around the huge planet last July 4.

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