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Listen to Jupiter’s auroras

Plus more cool stuff from the Juno spacecraft’s August 27 closest-yet flyby of Jupiter.

At the end of last week (September 2, 2016) NASA released the first batch of images from the Juno spacecraft’s closest-yet flyby of planet Jupiter on August 27.

The spacecraft’s JunoCam was snapping pictures during Juno’s six-hour transit from above Jupiter’s north pole to below its south pole, and all eight of Juno’s science instruments were energized and collecting data. Analysis of the first data download is ongoing, but already some interesting discoveries and images have been revealed.

Among the flyby’s more unique data sets was collected by the Radio/Plasma Wave Experiment (Waves). The instrument recorded ghostly-sounding transmissions emanating from above the planet. (Listen, above.) Scientists have known about these radio emissions since the 1950s, NASA said, but the emissions have never been analyzed from such a close vantage point.

Bill Kurth, co-investigator for the Waves instrument from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. Kurth said in a statement:

Jupiter is talking to us in a way only gas-giant worlds can. Waves detected the signature emissions of the energetic particles that generate the massive auroras which encircle Jupiter’s north pole. These emissions are the strongest in the solar system. Now we are going to try to figure out where the electrons come from that are generating them.

NASA's Juno spacecraft captured this view as it closed in on Jupiter's north pole, about two hours before closest approach on August, 27, 2016. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this view as it closed in on Jupiter’s north pole, about two hours before closest approach on August, 27, 2016. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

NASA’s Juno spacecraft also sent back the first-ever images of Jupiter’s north pole. The images show storm systems and weather activity that scientists said are unlike anything previously seen on any of our solar system’s gas-giant planets.

Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Bolton said in a statement:

First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before. It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms. There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to – this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter. We’re seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.

The JunoCam instrument acquired this view of Jupiter's south polar region about an hour after closest approach on Aug. 27, 2016, when the spacecraft was about 58,700 miles (94,500 kilometers) above the cloud tops. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

The JunoCam instrument acquired this view of Jupiter’s south polar region about an hour after closest approach on August 27, 2016, when the spacecraft was about 58,700 miles (94,500 kilometers) above the cloud tops. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

An instrument called the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JI-RAM) acquired images of Jupiter at its north and south polar regions in infrared wavelengths.

Alberto Adriani is JIRAM co-investigator from Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali, Rome. Adriani said in a statement:

These first infrared views of Jupiter’s north and south poles are revealing warm and hot spots that have never been seen before. And while we knew that the first ever infrared views of Jupiter’s south pole could reveal the planet’s southern aurora, we were amazed to see it for the first time.

The Juno spacecraft launched on August 5, 2011, and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

his infrared image from Juno provides an unprecedented view of Jupiter's southern aurora. Such views are not possible from Earth. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

his infrared image from Juno provides an unprecedented view of Jupiter’s southern aurora. Such views are not possible from Earth. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

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Bottom line: NASA released first images and video from Juno’s closest-yet flyby of Jupiter.

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Eleanor Imster

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