Jupiter Gets its Close-Up


The first science results from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our solar system as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world. (NASA)

D’you know about Juno? Catch up with our media-rich study guide!

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

No Great Red Spot, it’s a Blue South Pole! This image shows Jupiter’s south pole, from an altitude of about 52,000 kilometers (32,000 miles). The oval features are cyclones, up to 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) in diameter.
Photograph by NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

Discussion Ideas

  • Why are Jupiter’s polar storms (like the swirls that dot the Jovian south pole above) so intriguing?


Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is just one of the storms swirling around (and around, and around) the great big planet.
Image by NASA
  • Juno is providing new information on the structure of Jupiter’s belts and zones. What are belts and zones?
    • Belts and zones describe the striped configuration of Jupiter’s clouds.
      • Belts are dark bands of clouds, generally thin and located at fairly low altitudes.
      • Zones are light bands of clouds, generally thicker than belts and located at high altitudes. Zones have lighter colors than belts due to a higher concentration of ammonia and light-reflecting ammonia ice.
    • One of the fascinating facts relayed by Juno is that these cloudy features may be more wispy than we thought. They didn’t show up when measured with microwave radiation. “These zones and belts either don’t exist or this instrument isn’t sensitive to it for some reason,” Bolton said. A band of ammonia in Jupiter’s equatorial region, however, was “the most startling feature that was brand-new and unexpected.”


Illustration of Jupiter’s interior and magnetic fields by NASA
  • Jupiter’s magnetic fields are even stranger and lumpier than we thought. In a particularly stunning finding, Juno revealed that Jupiter’s magnetic fields are nearly twice as strong as anticipated. “Every flyby we execute gets us closer to determining where and how Jupiter’s dynamo works.” What is a dynamo? Skim our “dynamo theory” section here for some help.
    • A dynamo (or geodynamo) describes the process by which a planet generates a magnetic field. Both Jupiter and Earth have internal dynamos. According to NASA, “Jupiter is a gas giant that offers a clear view to its dynamo. In contrast, Earth’s dynamo is partially hidden beneath a layer of magnetized crustal rock.”
    • According to Nat Geo, “For a planet to have a geodynamo, it must rotate, it must have a fluid medium in its interior, the fluid must be able to conduct electricity, and it must have an internal energy supply that drives convection in the liquid.”
      • rotation. Jupiter is the fastest-spinning planet in the solar system, making a complete rotation about every 10 hours. (Earth, of course, takes about 24 hours to rotate.)
      • fluid. The fluid medium in Jupiter’s mysterious interior is truly exotic: metallic hydrogen. This liquid form of hydrogen does not exist on Earth, and was only created in a lab this year (2017). (Earth’s liquid outer core is made of iron and nickel.)
      • conductivity. Metallic hydrogen acts like an electrically conducting metal. (The liquid iron in Earth’s core is an excellent electrical conductor.)
      • energy supply. The energy supply feeding Jupiter’s dynamo is gravitational compression—leftover heat from the time the planet formed, about 4.5 billion years ago. (The energy supply that drives Earth’s dynamo is provided by gravitational compression and droplets of liquid iron freezing onto the solid inner core. Solidification releases heat energy.)


Jupiter’s auroras are “like the Northern Lights on steroids,” hundreds of times larger and more energetic than auroras on Earth.
Photograph courtesy NASA


Jupiter’s trademark Great Red Spot—a cyclonic feature larger than Earth—has probably been swirling for more than 350 years.
Photograph by NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute



NASA: A Whole New Jupiter: First Science Results from NASA’s Juno Mission

New York Times: NASA’s Jupiter Mission Reveals the ‘Brand-New and Unexpected’Nat Geo: D’you Know About Juno?

NASA: JunoCam

NASA: Juno mission

(extra credit!) Science: Jupiter’s interior and deep atmosphere: The initial pole-to-pole passes with the Juno spacecraft

(extra credit!) Science: Jupiter’s magnetosphere and aurorae observed by the Juno spacecraft during its first polar orbits

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