If you are anything like me, you are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Juno, the spacecraft that will reach Jupiter on July 4th. Juno’s mission is to collect data that will allow scientists to learn more about the origin of Jupiter and its evolution. We have so many unanswered questions about Jupiter. For example, we have made guesses that it has a solid core underneath its massive atmosphere, but we have never seen direct evidence of it. Juno will hopefully solve thismystery. Jupiter is very colorful with its swirling storms and bands of clouds, but how deep do these penetrate into its atmosphere? How does metallic hydrogen (formed when gaseous hydrogen is put under immense pressure) work to make Jupiter’s extreme magnetic field, which causes some of the most amazing auroras we’ve seen in the solar system? Because of Jupiter’s immense size, it has retained the giant gaseous atmosphere that the smaller planets have since lost from their formation. By studying this atmosphere, we can get a better idea of how all the planets in the solar system formed. Looking through Jupiter’s clouds will be like looking at a history book of our own planet.
In order to prepare for the arrival of Juno, scientists have used the European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s Very Large Telescope to take infrared pictures of Jupiter. They will use these images to help them map the gas giant planet. Knowing as much as they can about Jupiter before the arrival of Juno will help ensure the mission’s success. These, along with images the Juno team has collected from other telescopes around the world, will be used to study the motion of the atmosphere. Infrared helps scientists get a more 3D view of how gases move between upper and lower levels of the cloud layers. So while folks on Earth are waiting for the groundbreaking data from the Juno spacecraft mission, an equally important set of research is being done right here.
Glenn Orton is the leader of Earth-based efforts to gather information to prepare for Juno’s arrival. He explains why this preliminary research is so important: “The combined efforts of an international team of amateur and professional astronomers have provided us with an incredibly rich dataset over the past eight months. Together with the new results from Juno, the VISIR dataset in particular will allow researchers to characterize Jupiter’s global thermal structure, cloud cover and distribution of gaseous species.”
In these images, the darker colors show cooler areas, and the brighter ones are hotter. By comparing images over time, scientists can see exactly how the bands shift and change, and can make predictions to keep Juno and the spacecraft’s equipment safe and to get the best results from the mission possible. These images and the maps that result from them will also help scientists interpret the data that is sent back from the Juno spacecraft.
The Juno mission is the second of NASA’s New Frontiers program, following their New Horizons mission to Pluto, which is still amazing amateurs and scientists alike with it’s continuous discoveries. Juno will orbit Jupiter for 20 months before de-orbiting into Jupiter’s atmosphere in 2018.
Want to learn more?
NASA's Juno Mission Overview: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/overview/index.html
The Juno Official Mission Website: https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu
Have any questions pertaining to this or any other science topic? Ask in the comments! We might feature your topic in a new article!
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in several magazines, and she was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications and Mechanical Muse, an independent gaming company. She blogs regularly for GeekMom and The Once and Future Podcast. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available now on Amazon. Follow Melanie on Facebook and on Twitter as @MelanieRMeadors.