NASA’s Dangerous Juno Mission Will Soon Try to Reach 3,000 Miles from Jupiter’s Cloudtops Without Being Destroyed

“The scariest thing to me are the unknowns. So much about the Jupiter environment we will have to withstand is unknown. Nothing is certain about what’s going to happen.”

– Planetary Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

“Juno is only about one third the way through its primary mission, and already we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter. These astonishing science results are yet another example of Jupiter’s curve balls, and a testimony to the value of exploring the unknown from a new perspective with next-generation instruments. Juno’s unique orbit and evolutionary high-precision radio science and infrared technologies enabled these paradigm-shifting discoveries.”

– Scott Bolton, Ph.D., Juno Principal Investigator, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX

No other human-made spacecraft from Earth has tried to fly this deeply into Jupiter's radiation belts to reach 3,000 miles from Jupiter's cloudtops. No scientist knows what will happen. Illustration of NASA/JPL's Juno spacecraft on July 4, 2018, headed to 3,000 miles from Jovian cloudtops.
No other human-made spacecraft from Earth has tried to fly this deeply into Jupiter’s radiation belts to reach 3,000 miles from Jupiter’s cloudtops. No scientist knows what will happen. Illustration of NASA/JPL’s Juno spacecraft on July 4, 2018, headed to 3,000 miles from Jovian cloudtops.

March 17, 2018 Pasadena, California – In less than four months, NASA/JPL’s Juno spacecraft will try the closest approach of any Earth machine so far with the goal to penetrate the giant planet’s radiation belts. Scientists are now trying to keep up with Juno’s data stream as it approaches the strongest gravity and magnetic fields in our solar system. July 4th, 2018, will be a big unknown. Will Juno be able to enter orbit around the biggest gas planet in our solar system without being destroyed after seven and a half years to get there (August 5, 2011-July 4, 2018)? Scientists in charge of this unique effort are actually afraid of what could happen when Juno tries to get to 3,000 miles from Jupiter’s cloudtops.

In the March 7, 2018, issue of Nature, Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton, Ph.D., from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, describes in his paper “Measurement of Jupiter’s Asymmetric Gravity Field,” that “precise Doppler tracking of the Juno spacecraft in its polar orbit around Jupiter found a north-south asymmetry related to the atmospheric winds and interior flows of Jupiter’s different zones of atmosphere.”

Dr. Bolton says, “These astonishing science results are yet another example of Jupiter’s curve balls, and a testimony to the value of exploring the unknown from a new perspective with next-generation instruments. Juno’s unique orbit and evolutionary high-precision radio science and infrared technologies enabled these paradigm-shifting discoveries. Juno is only about one-third the way through its primary mission, and already we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter.”

What will happen to Juno when the spacecraft tries to reach within 3,000 miles of Jupiter's cloudtops that band around our solar system's largest planet with the most intense radiation and magnetic fields in our solar system? Graphic by JPL/NASA.
What will happen to Juno when the spacecraft tries to reach within 3,000 miles of Jupiter’s cloudtops that band around our solar system’s largest planet with the most intense radiation and magnetic fields in our solar system? Graphic by JPL/NASA.

NASA JPL: “Jupiter is the biggest, baddest planet in our solar system and it has the biggest and baddest radiation and the biggest and baddest magnetic field. Jupiter is a monster gas planet. It’s unforgiving. It’s relentless. It’s spinning around so fast that its gravity is like a giant slingshot flinging rocks, dust, electrons, whole comets — anything that gets close to it becomes its weapon. It just so happens that deep inside this massive gas body are the secrets we are after — secrets of our early solar system. But no Earth spacecraft has ever flown this close to Jupiter, flown this deep into the radiation belts trying to reach 3,000 miles from Jupiter’s cloudtops. The real trick is to go in close, get the data, and get out. And the first time we go in, that’s the most dangerous. We call it Jupiter Orbit Insertion, JOI.”

The bands of Jupiter are enormous, deep weather bands that last for centuries, surrounded in this NASA illustration by the strongest magnetic fields in our solar system. Image by NASA/JPL.
The bands of Jupiter are enormous, deep weather bands that last for centuries, surrounded in this NASA illustration by the strongest magnetic fields in our solar system. Image by NASA/JPL.

Jupiter’s Radiation Versus Earth’s

Earth’s Cosmic Radiation from Space

The background radiation that we’re exposed to on Earth is about one-third of a RAD [ 0.39 Rad] of cosmic radiation from space.


Juno Spacecraft’s Cosmic Radiation At Jupiter

Juno Mission’s Radiation Exposure = 20,000,000 RAD over course of the mission.

Jupiter’s Immense, Deep Weather Bands and Centuries-Long Red Spot —
Entangled in Jupiter’s Core Gravity?

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclonic storm that is 22° south of the planet's equator. It has been continuously observed for 188 years and earlier descriptions from 1665 to 1713 are believed to be of the same storm. If so, the Great Red Spot has existed in the same Jupiter band location for at least 350 years. Such centuries-long cyclonic disturbances are now thought to be a common feature of gas giant planets that have very turbulent atmospheres. The Great Red Spot rotates counter-clockwise, with a period of about six Earth days or fourteen Jovian days. It measures at 10,159 miles (16,350 km) in width (as of April 3, 2017) and the cloudtops of this persistent storm are about 8 km above the surrounding cloudtops. Jupiter's Great Red Spot is large enough to contain two or three planets of Earth size. The cloudtops of this storm are about 5 miles (8 km) above the other surrounding cloudtops.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclonic storm that is 22° south of the planet’s equator. It has been continuously observed for 188 years and earlier descriptions from 1665 to 1713 are believed to be of the same storm. If so, the Great Red Spot has existed in the same Jupiter band location for at least 350 years. Such centuries-long cyclonic disturbances are now thought to be a common feature of gas giant planets that have very turbulent atmospheres. The Great Red Spot rotates counter-clockwise, with a period of about six Earth days or fourteen Jovian days. It measures at 10,159 miles (16,350 km) in width (as of April 3, 2017) and the cloudtops of this persistent storm are about 8 km above the surrounding cloudtops. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is large enough to contain two or three planets of Earth size. The cloudtops of this storm are about 5 miles (8 km) above the other surrounding cloudtops.

The depth to which the roots of Jupiter’s famous zones and belts extend has been a mystery for decades. Gravity measurements collected by Juno during its close flybys of the planet have now provided an answer. The current Juno gravity measurements were a surprise because the horizontal bands of weather layers on Jupiter are more massive and go deeper from the stripes to below the visible clouds. New data indicates the weather layers from the top go down 1,900 miles (3,000 km), which is 1% of Jupiter’s mass equivalent to three Earth masses.

“By contrast, Earth’s atmosphere is less than one millionth of the total mass of Earth,” reports Yohai Kaspi, Juno co-investigator from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. So what is the physics behind Jupiter’s massive weather bands rotating separately east to west? What are the gravity signatures of the intense jet streams behind the weather layers and are those jet streams entangled with Jupiter’s core gravity? Why don’t the bands merge together?

Geometric Cyclones At Jupiter’s Poles

Further, no one expected Jupiter’s North and South poles to have massive cyclones arranged in geometrical patterns. There is nothing else like that in our solar system.

This composite image, derived from data collected by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter with planned arrival on July 4th, 2018, shows in this infrared image the central cyclone at the planet's north pole and the eight cyclones that encircle it. There is nothing else in our solar system like the north and south poles of Jupiter. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.
This composite image, derived from data collected by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter with planned arrival on July 4th, 2018, shows in this infrared image the central cyclone at the planet’s north pole and the eight cyclones that encircle it. There is nothing else in our solar system like the north and south poles of Jupiter. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.
This computer-generated image shows the structure of the cyclonic pattern observed over Jupiter’s south pole. Like in the North, Jupiter’s south pole also contains a central cyclone, but it is surrounded by five cyclones with diameters ranging from 3,500 to 4,300 miles (5,600 to 7,000 kilometers) in diameter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.
This computer-generated image shows the structure of the cyclonic pattern observed over Jupiter’s south pole. Like in the North, Jupiter’s south pole also contains a central cyclone, but it is surrounded by five cyclones with diameters ranging from 3,500 to 4,300 miles (5,600 to 7,000 kilometers) in diameter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.

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More Information:


Websites:

Juno Mission by NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/main/index.html

“Measurement of Jupiter’s Asymmetric Gravity Field,” Nature, March 7, 2018: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25776

“NASA Juno Findings – Jupiter’s Jet-Streams Are Unearthly,” March 7, 2018, NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/nasa-juno-findings-jupiter-s-jet-streams-are-unearthly


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