HST image of Jupiter's aurora
Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester)

Jupiter's Fireworks

Jupiter is the largest and most massive planet in our solar system, more massive than all the other planets combined, nearly 318 times the mass of the earth. We know now that other Jupiter-size planets exist in other solar systems, so that the formation of large, massive planets like Jupiter may be fairly common, and may play a key role in the formation of planetary systems. Jupiter, a bright naked-eye planet, is itself is largely a mystery. Jupiter's atmosphere is distinguished by swirling, banded ammonia clouds, and the famous Great Red Spot, an enormous cyclonic storm bigger than two earths. The 9.8 hour Jovian day is the shortest of any major planet. Jupiter's fast rotation helps power a strong magnetic field, which traps charged particles from the sun and produces a beautiful light show near the magnetic poles, as shown in the far-ultraviolet Hubble Space Telescope image above. This light-show is Jupiter's aurora, its version of the earth's Northern lights. Jupiter's aurora is very dynamic, as detailed by series of Hubble images. NASA's Juno spacecraft will provide us with an unprecedented understanding of Jupiter's interior, its atmosphere, winds and weather, and its magnetic field. Juno, after a 5-year, 2-billion mile journey, arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Juno will orbit the planet once every 14 days, and its radiation-hardened instruments will help determine whether the planet has a solid core, and will map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, study the auroras, measure the composition of planet's atmosphere, and generally help us understand the origin and evolution of this important planet.
Published: July 4, 2016

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Monday, 11-Jul-2016 08:50:02 EDT