New findings released this week by NASA revealed how much we still have to learn about Jupiter. The results thus far from NASA's Juno mission, which launched in August 2011 but just reached Jupiter in July, uncovered an array of astonishing and unexpected facts about the solar system's largest planet:
- Jupiter's top and bottom poles are enveloped in massive cyclones, some spanning 870 miles across.
- Jupiter's equatorial region houses pools of ammonia rising from deep within the planet's atmosphere. The Juno mission's principal investigator, Scott Bolton, called this "the most startling feature that was brand-new and unexpected."
- Jupiter boasts a magnetic field that "is nearly 50 percent stronger than previously suspected in some place," Science magazine reported. To put it into perspective, Jupiter's magnetic field could be 10 times stronger than Earth's strongest magnetic field.
- Unlike Earth's polar auroras, which Science magazine explains are "fueled by particles streaming in from space," Jupiter's auroras are powered by electrons from "deep within the planet's atmosphere."
Needless to say, it's a far cry from researchers' initial expectation of fairly humdrum findings. "There is so much going on here that we didn't expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter," Bolton said.
Next up, on July 11, Juno will take a closer look at Jupiter's Great Red Spot. In the meantime, check out a few more jaw-dropping photos from Juno's first flyby. Becca Stanek