Jupiter’s Big Day

NASA received a three-second beep to reassure them that the spacecraft had made it into orbit in one piece. Juno project manager Rick Nybakken told the room: “We just did the hardest thing NASA’s ever done.”

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by Shelby Traynor

Image credit: NASA/JPL

In Ancient Roman mythology, Jupiter claimed domain over the sky and the thunder. He cloaked himself in cloud to hide his mischief— but his wife, Juno, could see past it all. It’s no accident that NASA named a spacecraft after her (though they did give the craft a backronym in an attempt to cover their sentimental tracks), or that she has been zipping through space at almost 19 miles per second for the past five years, her sights set on Jupiter and it’s mysteries.

Juno snuck its way into Jupiter’s orbit on July 4th. At 11:18 PM Eastern Time the main engine started firing, slowing the spacecraft enough so it could fall into the planet’s orbit. At 11:53 PM, those engines were shut off. Almost four hundred million miles away, NASA received a three-second beep to reassure them that the spacecraft had made it into orbit in one piece. Juno project manager Rick Nybakken told the room: “We just did the hardest thing NASA’s ever done.” Continue reading “Jupiter’s Big Day”

Solar Storms and Jupiter’s Dancing Lights

Chandra was able to observe key changes in Jupiter’s X-ray auroras when a coronal mass ejection hit Jupiter.

By Shelby Traynor

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UCL/W.Dunn et al, Optical: NASA/STScI

In case you thought Jupiter couldn’t get any cooler, a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research has laid out evidence that solar storms are causing Jupiter’s auroras (think the Northern Lights, the Southern Lights, or that scene from Brother Bear) to brighten by almost eight times their usual brilliance.

The interaction was spotted by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, a telescope orbiting above the Earth to look for X-ray emissions in that big, old universe of ours.

Since Jupiter’s auroras are actually X-ray auroras, they can’t be spotted by the typical telescope (or by the human eye, if any of you were hoping to plan future vacations there). Chandra was able to observe key changes in Jupiter’s X-ray auroras when a particularly wicked solar storm, or coronal mass ejection (CME), hit Jupiter. Continue reading “Solar Storms and Jupiter’s Dancing Lights”