Tagged: Jupiter

Astronomers accidentally discover a dozen new moons around Jupiter

Astronomers oftentimes have to look very, very carefully for something that they believe exists in a certain spot in space. Whether that be an exoplanet orbiting a distant star or perhaps a still-unseen planet lurking at the edge of the Solar System, it’s a challenging endeavor. But every so often, the planets seem to align (no pun intended) and a new discovery just falls right into their laps.

That seems to be what happened to astronomers working at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, where a planned survey of trans-neptunian objects was interrupted by Jupiter. The massive gas giant began muscling in on the telescope’s line of sight, and in doing so, revealed a few secrets of its own.

Rather than delay their work, the researchers decided to pivot to studying moons of Jupiter which had flown into their gaze. In doing so, the scientists noticed not one, not two, but a full 12 totally new moons whose orbits hadn’t yet been documented, bringing the total number of the planet’s moons up to a whopping 79.

The scientists note that they were able to discover these new moons thanks to the lower detection threshold of the telescope. “We were able to go a little bit fainter than anyone has been able to go in the past,” Scott Sheppard of Carnegie Institution for Science told the Washington Post, “That’s why we were able to find these new moons.”

These new moons aren’t exactly record-breakers in terms of size. They’re quite small, measuring two miles in diameter at the most, and they orbit at a larger distance than many of the already-documented moons of Jupiter.

This isn’t likely to be the last new moons that we hear about coming from the gas giant, and astronomers believe there are still plenty smaller satellites that remain undetected. It’s believed that many of the tiny moons around Jupiter were once much larger, having broken up over time due to the stress of gravity or perhaps even collisions with each other, resulting in the smaller objects we see today.

Jupiter’s moon Io is covered in volcanos, and astronomers may have just spotted another one

Jupiter might be the largest, most eye-catching planet in our Solar System, but the planet itself isn’t the only interesting thing in its neighborhood. Jupiter’s moon are also a huge point of interest for scientists, and Io is one of the most bizarre. Io is similar in size to Earth’s moon, but it’s a much more active place. Its surface is dotted with incredibly active volcanoes, and astronomers studying Io might have just spotted yet another one.

Thanks to NASA’s Juno spacecraft scientists have been able to get a better look at Jupiter and its natural satellites than ever before, and when the orbiter’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM for short) set its sights on Io, it saw something new.

“The new Io hotspot JIRAM picked up is about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the nearest previously mapped hotspot,” Juno co-investigator Alessandro Mura, from the National Institute for Astrophysics, explains. “We are not ruling out movement or modification of a previously discovered hot spot, but it is difficult to imagine one could travel such a distance and still be considered the same feature.”

The hotspot, seen in the image above, isn’t quite as dominant as other well-known volcanic areas of the planet, but the signal is clear enough that scientists know something is going on there. Volcanic features on a world as active as Io can move and shift, forming new volcanos and fissures over time. Scientists already know of at least 150 active volcanos on its surface, but they have long suspected that there are still hundreds of potentially active volcanos on the moon which are waiting to be found. This new hotspot may be one of them.

The data used for this discovery was originally gathered back in December of 2017, but this isn’t the last time that Juno will be making observations of Io. The orbiter will be making “even closer” passes of the striking alien moon in the future, so we might be on the verge of discovering additional features of its surface.

NASA’s latest photo of Jupiter is pretty enough to be your desktop wallpaper

Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System by a pretty wide margin, and while it’s not exactly the most welcoming to human visitors, it’s still the most eye-catching. NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been hanging around the gas giant for a couple of years now and it’s made a habit out of delivering stunning images of the planet. Its latest snapshot is a real gem, and it’s probably worthy of a place on your desktop.

The photo, which shows off Jupiter’s southern end, reveals the stunning bands that wrap around the planet along with the swirling storms that have become so iconic.

NASA describes the photo thusly:

This image of Jupiter’s southern hemisphere was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on the outbound leg of a close flyby of the gas-giant planet. Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager.

The color-enhanced image was taken at 11:31 p.m. PDT on May 23, 2018 (2:31 a.m. EDT on May 24), as the spacecraft performed its 13th close flyby of Jupiter. At the time, Juno was about 44,300 miles (71,400 kilometers) from the planet’s cloud tops, above a southern latitude of 71 degrees.

You might think that 44,300 miles sounds like a poor distance from which to take a photo, but Juno’s powerful cameras and Jupiter’s immense size are quick to prove you wrong. The image (full size available here) is incredibly detailed, allowing you to see plenty of detail within the swirling storm clouds and brightly-colored bands.

Photos like this one have become a regular thing for NASA ever since Juno entered orbit around the massive planet in July of 2016, but despite the perfect birds-eye view there’s still a lot that we don’t know about Jupiter itself. Scientists only recently discovered just how deep the planet’s weather systems go, stretching down 200 miles from the cloud tops. What lies beneath is still a topic of debate, with researchers agreeing that some kind of hard surface must exist, but with little data on what it might look like.

NASA showcases gorgeous new photo of Jupiter that looks almost too amazing to be real

Man, Jupiter sure is weird. The gas giant is one of the most-photographed objects in our Solar System thanks to its mesmerizing, swirling cloud tops, but NASA’s latest photo of the colossal planet is even more jaw-dropping than usual.

The photo, which was taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, has everything you want to see in a Jupiter close-up. There’s massive cyclones, gorgeous color contrast, and lots of detail hiding within every one of the spiraling storm clouds. It’s images like this that should make everyone very happy that NASA extended Juno’s mission instead of allowing it to plunge to a fiery death in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

As NASA explains in a blog post showing off the photo, the image was captured at a distance of approximately 9,600 miles above the planet’s cloud tops. That might seem like a huge distance, but the planet is so massive that there’s still plenty to see.

“The region seen here is somewhat chaotic and turbulent, given the various swirling cloud formations. In general, the darker cloud material is deeper in Jupiter’s atmosphere, while bright cloud material is high,” NASA notes. “The bright clouds are most likely ammonia or ammonia and water, mixed with a sprinkling of unknown chemical ingredients.”

There’s lots of tiny, intricate detail hidden between the spinning storm clouds, with countless mini swirls slipping off in all directions as the larger cyclones dominate the upper atmosphere. One of the more interesting features of the photo is the large, brightly colored storm near the bottom of the image.

“A bright oval at bottom center stands out in the scene,” NASA says. “This feature appears uniformly white in ground-based telescope observations. However, with JunoCam we can observe the fine-scale structure within this weather system, including additional structures within it. There is not significant motion apparent in the interior of this feature; like the Great Red Spot, its winds probably slows down greatly toward the center.”

The image you see above didn’t arrive from Juno in its current state, as it was color enhanced and tweaked by photography gurus to bring out as much detail as possible. You can view raw images from Juno at NASA’s JunoCam web portal, which and there’s plenty of eye candy there to enjoy.

Scientists just discovered something very special about Jupiter’s lightning

Jupiter is a massive, swirling mass of towering storm clouds, and anyone who lives on Earth knows that storms are fantastic at producing lightning. When NASA sent its Voyager 1 spacecraft on its trip through our Solar System, its flyby of Jupiter revealed that Jupiter does indeed have lightning, but it wasn’t producing the same kinds of radio signals that scientists are familiar with from lightning here on Earth. Now, nearly four decades later, NASA finally knows why.

NASA researchers just published a new paper in Nature that describes how they used data from the Juno probe to solve the mystery of Jupiter’s strange lightning, and it reveals that the planet’s storms produce flashes that are both very similar and also completely different from lightning on Earth.

“No matter what planet you’re on, lightning bolts act like radio transmitters—sending out radio waves when they flash across a sky,” Shannon Brown of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and lead author of the work, explains. “But until Juno, all the lightning signals recorded by spacecraft [Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini] were limited to either visual detections or from the kilohertz range of the radio spectrum, despite a search for signals in the megahertz range. Many theories were offered up to explain it, but no one theory could ever get traction as the answer.”

That’s a lot to digest, so let’s break it down a bit: All the tools on previous spacecraft that tried to listen in to Jupiter’s lightning didn’t hear the kinds of radio signals that are produced by lightning on Earth. Nobody knew why that might be, but in Juno’s flybys of the planet it has managed to hear what previous spacecraft couldn’t.

“In the data from our first eight flybys, Juno’s MWR detected 377 lightning discharges. They were recorded in the megahertz as well as gigahertz range, which is what you can find with terrestrial lightning emissions,” Brown explains. “We think the reason we are the only ones who can see it is because Juno is flying closer to the lighting than ever before, and we are searching at a radio frequency that passes easily through Jupiter’s ionosphere.”

Previous missions might just not have been close enough to hear the signals, or they may have been largely blocked by Jupiter’s own atmosphere. Now, however, Juno can hear the signals the others missed, and that means the lightning on Jupiter is actually a lot like our own… but not exactly the same. In addition to solving the riddle, the researchers discovered that the origin of Jupiter’s lightning is very different from what we’re used to on our own planet.

NASA says the lightning distribution on Jupiter is “inside out” compared to Earth. The lightning originates at Jupiter’s poles, rather than distributed across its surface, and the researchers attribute that to Jupiter’s distance from the Sun. They think that, because Jupiter’s atmosphere is stable near its equator thanks to warmth from the Sun, the lightning is forming in the much less stable air rising near its poles from within the planet. Neat!