Jupiter's 'jaw-dropping' north pole unlike anything encountered in Solar System

Posted by ap507 at Sep 05, 2016 12:35 PM |
Leicester researchers comment on Juno's latest findings, from images of Jupiter's north pole to the ghostly sounds of its magnetic field
Jupiter's 'jaw-dropping' north pole unlike anything encountered in Solar System

An infrared image of an aurora at the south pole - something Earth telescopes have not managed to achieve (Credit: NASA)

Last week NASA's Juno spacecraft sent back the first-ever images of Jupiter's north pole, taken during the spacecraft's first flyby of the planet with its instruments switched on. The images show storm systems and weather activity unlike anything previously seen on any of our solar system's gas-giant planets.

Our University is home to the only formal UK science lead for the Juno mission, NASA's programme to study our solar system's largest planet, Jupiter. Planetary scientists and astronomers from our Department of Physics and Astronomy will be studying the gas giant's magnetosphere, dynamic atmosphere and its beautiful polar auroras.

Dr Jonathan Nichols from the Department of Physics and Astronomy told the BBC that his colleagues were bowled over when they first saw the pictures. He said: "The team's reaction was amazement. 'Look at these images; they are coming from Jupiter; we're flying over the pole for the first time!' It's just jaw-dropping."

In an interview with BBC Newsround, he explained how the images will help us to learn about the formation of Jupiter which can teach us more about our Solar System as a whole.

Another intriguing result of the Juno mission was its capturing of what NASA described as ghostly sounding transmissions emanating from the planet.

Dr Nichols said: "We're hearing the sounds of the magnetic field from Jupiter vibrating like strings on a guitar. When they get disturbed they ring and that's the sound that we're hearing. It's been changed from radio waves into audio and it makes that great sound. If you were going to make up a sound that sounds like space, then that's it."

Dr Nichols said Juno is the first spacecraft to go in to a 'polar orbit', and is therefore the first spacecraft to get a view down onto the poles of Jupiter.

He added: "Jupiter is crazy. It's the biggest, baddest, most dangerous place in the Solar System. It's really radioactive."

Scientists react to the images

Dr Tom Stallard, Associate Professor in Planetary Astronomy, said: "The stunning level of detail shown by these preliminary images suggests that our understanding of Jupiter's aurora promises to be revolutionised by observations from the coming science orbits. Having studied the infrared aurora through the murk of Earth's atmosphere for so long, to see them with such clarity is almost heart-stopping. I didn't think that I could be more excited for the Juno mission, but now my anticipation is palpable."

Dr Leigh Fletcher, Senior Research Fellow, said: "With this single, first flyby we’ve only had a taster of the kind of wonders Juno will be able to reveal - it’s hard to believe that we’ll be acquiring data of this quality every couple of weeks once the science phase truly starts. But what’s more exciting for me, as an atmospheric scientist, is what Juno hasn’t discovered - unlike Saturn, we see no large polar vortices, no hexagonal waves, and no banded structure up near the pole. That means that Jupiter is an entirely different beast to Saturn, and I can’t wait to see how all those dynamic clouds evolve over time."

Watch a video about NASA's Juno Mission below:

Radio emissions from Jupiter's intense auroras are presented below, both visually and in sound (Credit: NASA):