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Solving Jupiter’s Mysteries with Juno and NASA Infrared Telescope Facility

by Emily Peavy on December 23rd, 2016

Maunakea Skies Reflection with Dr. John Rayner, Director of NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF)

‘Imiloa invited Dr. John Rayner, Director of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (NASA IRTF) for his planetarium presentation titled Maunakea Skies: Jupiter, Juno and the IRTF. Dr. Rayner shared how his facility is working closely with NASA’s Juno mission to better understand the largest member of our Solar System.


Dynamic Duo
NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered a 53-day orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Launched in 2011, Juno’s mission is to study the makeup of Jupiter’s immense atmosphere and gain a better understanding of how Jupiter was formed. While Juno is getting up close and personal with Jupiter, the NASA IRTF (located on Maunakea) is assisting the mission by carefully observing Jupiter in infrared wavelengths, in doing so NASA IRTF provides context to Juno’s data.

These 8 images were taken with IRTF to assist with the Juno mission. Each image is taken using a different wavelength and thus unlocks different information about Jupiter. 1.58 micron light sees the reflectivity of deep clouds. 1.64, 1.65, and 2.12 microns are sensitive to particles reflecting sunlight. 2.16 microns detect particles in Jupiter’s upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. 2.26 microns is sensitive to the materials near the poles.  3.8 microns detects clouds near 2-3 bars within Jupiter’s atmosphere. While 5.10 detects thermal emission as deeps as 5 bars into Jupiter’s atmosphere. View more of these images taken by NASA IRTF here:


Previous Team Ups and Unanswered Questions
This is not the first time that NASA IRTF gave ground-based context to a spacecraft mission traveling to Jupiter. In 1995, the Galileo mission began its orbit around Jupiter where it studied the moons and clouds of the giant planet. In 2003 Galileo ended his mission by plummeting through the atmosphere of Jupiter to study the makeup and layers of Jupiter’s immense clouds. On December 7, 1995 NASA IRTF carefully observed Jupiter as Galileo began his orbit, the infrared maps created by NASA IRTF accompanied the data collected by this mission. While Galileo provided us with new insight into Jupiter’s clouds, it raised more questions than it answered: What is the source of Jupiter’s immense magnetic field? Does Jupiter have a solid rock/ice core? Could Jupiter have migrated from further out in the solar system triggering the Late Heavy Bombardment? The answers to these questions could greatly affect our current models of planetary formation


Juno and Her Experiments
As Juno orbits Jupiter, she will attempt to answer these questions by performing various experiments.  Gravity measurements strive to determine if Jupiter has a rock/ice core. The Microwave Radiometer on the craft will probe the atmosphere and measure water levels in the atmosphere. JEDI, JADE, and Waves will study the magnetic field of Jupiter and determine its connection to the atmosphere. While the UVS and JIRAM will detect chemical “fingerprints” of gases present in the clouds. And the basic JunoCam will take fantastic close up images of the large planet.


Members of the public can even help determine what JunoCam will image next by visiting its website.
Juno Instruments:

Infrared Map of Jupiter (Credit: NASA IRTF)

This science is additionally supported by observations by NASA IRTF, whose insights provide greater context to the flow of data that will come in from Juno. A goal of this team mission to provide a more detailed global map of Jupiter. Unfortunately when Juno entered its initial orbit there were complications which caused the spacecraft to be stuck in a longer (53 day) orbit, instead of the shorter orbits that were originally planned for the mission. While the spacecraft is able to conduct experiments in this 53-day orbit, it does take longer than if it was in its intended orbit. However NASA scientists are working on a solution to fix the long orbit problem.


More instrument overview:


Join us for ‘Imiloa’s next Maunakea Skies talk with Dr. Doug Simons from Canada France Hawaii Telescope who will discuss Cracking the Code of Existence on Friday, January 20 at 7:00 p.m. Hosted by Planetarium Technician Emily Peavy, ‘Imiloa’s monthly Maunakea Skies program includes observational highlights of the current night sky over Hawai‘i, with the audience able to view prominent constellations and stars visible during this time of year. Tickets can be pre-purchased at ‘Imiloa’s front desk, or over the phone by calling 808-932-8901. General admission tickets are $10, $8 for members (member level discounts apply).

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