Friday, July 1, 2016

Juno: July 4th

Something is coming for Jupiter this Independence Day. 

No, that's not a tagline for a summer blockbuster. It's 100% reality! NASA's Juno Mission will reach the biggest planet of our solar system on July 4th of this year.

Artist rendition of Juno at Jupiter. Credit: NASA.

Launched in 2011, Juno has been traveling through space for nearly five years to reach the gas giant. One of it's biggest tasks is to actually reevaluate the "gas" part of Jupiter's "gas giant" status. There may be a (relatively) small solid core somewhere under all those storms!

In addition to determining if Jupiter has a solid core, one of Juno's other main priorities is to study the planet's magnetosphere. A magnetosphere is the region where interaction happens between a planet's magnetic fields and solar winds from our sun. Earth's magnetic fields help protect us from solar winds, and our resulting magnetosphere stretches 40,000 miles off the surface of our planet in the direction of the sun. Away from our sun, the tail direction of our magnetosphere stretches 370,000 miles!

Earth's Magnetosphere. Credit: NASA.

Jupiter's magnetosphere stretches out 2 million miles.

The big question is, how is Jupiter producing its magnetic fields? For Earth, we produce it by the convection of liquid iron in our planet's core. This movement results in flowing electric charges, which induce magnetic fields. But what is it inside Jupiter that accomplishes this same effect?

That question and more will soon be answered! Keep your eyes on space news this summer.

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