What is Jupiter hiding deep below its cloud tops?
As we reported recently, NASA has just commanded the Juno probe to make an engine burn as it begins a journey of 51 million miles toward Jupiter, and it should arrive on July 4, according to a Discovery News report.
After a second engine burn on May 31, Juno should be well aligned to arrive at Jupiter, where it will circle 33 times and come within 3,100 of the cloud tops every 31 days. It will map out the gravitational and magnetic fields while it is there, shedding light on some incredible mysteries the planet is hiding.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Jupiter is the fact that it is covered in massive bands of clouds and epic storms, some that are so huge that Earth could fit inside one of them.
But there’s a lot scientists don’t know about these light and dark bands of clouds and storms, and just how deep they stretch under the cloud surface. Are they just a surface feature, or do they stretch deep inside the planet? Or is it a series of concentric cylinders, and these are just the tops of them?
There’s also the mystery of water. Scientists have long believed that water in Jupiter’s atmosphere caused the planet to have large amounts of heavier elements of carbon, nitrogen, and sulphur by trapping those materials. But scientists haven’t found water in the expected concentrations in the gas giant, which is basically a big ball of hydrogen and helium. If scientists could solve that mystery, it would shed a lot of light on how the planet evolved, how our solar system evolved, and even how the universe evolves. That’s Juno’s primary mission, after all.
Then there is the question of what lies at Jupiter’s core. Although Jupiter is a gas giant, it probably has a superheated rock core under high pressure, although scientists aren’t totally sure about that. They simply don’t have enough data on what lies deep below the swirling gas clouds. Juno will take gravity field measurements that could help unlock that mystery.