Juno: Surprises in First Science Results

From its dynamic atmosphere to its hidden depths, Juno reveals Jupiter as never before.

An artist’s conception of Juno in orbit around Jupiter.

Forget what you thought you knew about Jupiter. The first science results are in from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, currently in orbit around Jove. The findings were published in this week’s Science and Geophysical Research Letters today, along with a salvo of press releases.

For starters, there was this eye-popping, never-before-seen sequence of Jupiter’s aurorae, captured by Juno’s Ultraviolet Spectrograph. The long-tailed “comet” on the left is the footprint of an electromagnetic connection to the moon Io:


Juno’s orbit takes it around Jupiter once every 53 days, from a perijove 2,500 miles (4,000 km) above the Jovian cloud tops, to a five million mile (8 million km) apojove out past the orbit of Callisto. Original plans called for Juno to enter a tighter, 14-day-long orbit around Jupiter, but NASA decided to keep Juno in its present initial capture orbit after a helium valve engine anomaly turned up during a course correction burn last October. Juno will now complete 33 planned orbits in all and was granted a brief reprieve as its final disposal via atmospheric entry won’t occur now until July 2018.

Comparing Gas Giants

It has been a thrilling ride, as Juno scans Jupiter in detail from pole-to-pole once every pass in a whirlwind six hour science phase. Juno completed its sixth perijove pass earlier this week. Unlike what Cassini is seeing on its Grand Finale orbits around Saturn, however, the poles of Jupiter are chaotic and complex.

Juno’s swift and changing view as it passed from one pole of Jupiter to another through perijove on May 19th.
NASA / MSSS / SwRI / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran

“We knew, going in, that Jupiter that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” says Scott Bolton (Southwest Research Institute) in a NASA press release. “But now that we are here we are finding that Jupiter…

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