Ions Surf Through Jupiter’s Magnetic Field, Triggering its Auroras

Auroras come in many shapes and sizes.  Jupiter is well known for its spectacular complement of bright polar lights, which also have the distinction of appearing in the X-ray band.  These auroras are also extreme power sources, emitting almost a gigawatt of energy in a few minutes. But what exactly causes them has been a mystery for the last 40 years.  Now, a team used data from a combination of satellites to identify what is causing these powerful emissions.  The answer appears to be charged ions surfing on a kind of wave.

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This is the View From Juno During its Flyby of Ganymede and Jupiter

Visualizations shape how we perceive space exploration.  Whether it’s the Pale Blue Dot, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, Earthrise, or any other myriad images captured as part of this great endeavor, they all help inspire the next generation of explorers.  Now, with advances in image capture and processing technology, we can finally start to take the next step in those visualizations – video.  Ingenuity was recently captured on video during its first flight a few months ago.  And this week, NASA released a breathtaking video of Juno’s view of Jupiter and Ganymede, one of its moons, as it flew past the gas giant.

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Bad News, Life Probably can’t Exist on Venus. Good News, it Could be in Jupiter’s Clouds

For decades, scientists engaged in the search for life in the Universe (aka. astrobiology) have focused on searching for life on other Earth-like planets. These included terrestrial (aka. rocky) planets beyond our Solar System (extrasolar planets) and ones here at home. Beyond Earth, Mars is considered to be the most habitable planet next to Earth, and scientists have also theorized that life could exist (in microbial form) in the cloud tops of Venus.

In all cases, a major focal point is whether or not planets have large bodies of water on their surfaces (or did in the past). However, a new study led by a research team from the UK and German (with support from NASA) has shown that the existence of life may have less to do with the quantity of water and more to with the presence of atmospheric water molecules. As a result, we may have better luck finding life on Jupiter’s turbulent cloud deck than Venus’.

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Next up, Juno has Ganymede in its Sights

NASA’s Juno mission is set for a close encounter with the Solar System’s largest moon, Ganymede, on Monday. This will be the first flyby of the icy world since the Galileo and Cassini spacecraft jointly observed the moon in 2000. New Horizons also got a quick snap of Ganymede as it slingshotted around Jupiter on its way out to Pluto in 2007, but from a distance of 3.5 million kilometers away. Juno’s pass on Monday will get much closer, approaching within 1038 kilometers of the surface.

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Stare Straight Down Into a Giant Storm on Jupiter

A new batch of images recently arrived at Earth from JunoCam, the visible light camera on board the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter. The camera has provided stunning views of the gas giant world since the spacecraft’s arrival in 2016. Citizen scientists and imaging enthusiasts act as the camera’s virtual imaging team, participating in key steps of the process by making suggestions of areas on Jupiter to take pictures and doing the image editing work.

This lead image, edited by Kevin Gill, is another stunner: a look straight down into a giant storm.

And we like Kevin’s attitude about this whole process:

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Jupiter Could Make an Ideal Dark Matter Detector

So, you want to find dark matter, but you don’t know where to look? A giant planet might be exactly the kind of particle detector you need! Luckily, our solar system just happens to have a couple of them available, and the biggest and closest is Jupiter. Researchers Rebecca Leane (Stanford) and Tim Linden (Stockholm) released a paper this week describing how the gas giant just might hold the key to finding the elusive dark matter.

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has a Dark Secret. It Feeds on Smaller Storms

JunoCam captured these images of the Great Red Spot during the July 2017 fly-by of Jupiter. The composite images provide a richly-detailed look at the storm. Image: Sánchez-Lavega et al. 2018; composed by G. Eichstadt and J. Cowart

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot – the largest and most powerful of all the storms in the solar system – has been churning for hundred of years. Recently dozens of smaller storms have slammed into the Red Spot. Those smaller storms only caused superficial damage – and may have ended up feeding the beast itself.

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Following the Jovian Moons Through 2021 Mutual Eclipse Season

Jupiter

Watch as the Jovian moons perform a spectacular celestial dance in 2021.

Wondering where all the planets have gone? With the the exception of Mars high in the dusk sky, all of the other naked eye planets (Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn) are currently hiding low in the dawn… but that’s about to change.

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Juno Just Saw a Spacerock Crash Into Jupiter

Timing is extraordinarily important in many aspects of astronomy.  If an astronomer or their instrument is looking the wrong way at the wrong time they could miss something spectacular.  Alternatively, there are moments when our instruments capture something unexpected in regions of space that we were searching for something else.  That is exactly what happened recently when a team of scientists, led by Rohini Giles at the Southwest Research Institute, saw an image of what is likely a meteor impacting Jupiter’s atmosphere.  

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Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids Offer Surprises Even Before NASA’s Lucy Mission has a Chance to Visit Them.

A new study out this month suggests that Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids may be more peculiar than previously thought. The Trojan asteroids are rocky objects which orbit the Sun just ahead of and just behind the gas giant, in gravitational sweet spots known as Lagrange points. The swarm ahead of Jupiter, known as the L4 (Greek) group, is slightly larger than the L5 (Trojan) swarm behind, but until now, astronomers believed that there was otherwise little differentiation between the two swarms. The paper released this month appears to change that.

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