NASA's Juno spacecraft has uncovered new information about the gas giant Jupiter. Much like Earth, the planet's magnetic field is shifting.
According to NASA scientists, the probe's new readings of Jupiter's magnetic field is different from the observations from past missions. This suggested that the magnetic field of the largest planet in the Solar System is changing in small but significant ways.
"Finding something as minute as these changes in something so immense as Jupiter's magnetic field was a challenge," commented Kimee Moore, a Juno scientist from Harvard University. "Having a baseline of close-up observations over four decades long provided us with just enough data to confirm that Jupiter's magnetic field does indeed change over time."
Changes In Jupiter's Magnetic Field Detected By Juno
The new data was collected from Juno's first eight science passes of Jupiter. The spacecraft used an instrument called magnetometer which can generate a detailed three-dimensional map of the planet's magnetic field.
In a study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the team behind the mission compared the new data with observations made by Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1, and Ulysses. The changes in the planet's magnetic field over the past 40 years indicate that it undergoes a phenomenon called secular variation.
On Earth, secular variation occurs because of changes underneath the surface. In Jupiter, scientists believe that the shifts in the magnetic field are largely driven by the gas giant's deep atmospheric or zonal winds.
The secular variation is most obvious in Jupiter's Great Blue Spot, an intense patch of the magnetic field near the planet's equator. The findings concerning Jupiter's changing magnetic field might also give scientists new insight into the shifts in Earth's own magnetic field.
"It is incredible that one narrow magnetic hot spot, the Great Blue Spot, could be responsible for almost all of Jupiter's secular variation, but the numbers bear it out," added Moore. "With this new understanding of magnetic fields, during future science passes we will begin to create a planetwide map of Jupiter's secular variation."
Juno Keeps An Eye On Jupiter
Juno launched from Earth in 2011 and arrived at Jupiter's orbit in 2016. The mission of the spacecraft is to map the magnetic field, watch auroras, measure the amount of water and ammonia deep in its atmosphere, look for a solid core, and understand the origin and evolution of the fifth planet from the sun and the largest planet in the solar system.