NASA’s Juno has truly increased our understanding of the largest planet in the solar system. Now, the probe has found changes in Jupiter’s magnetic field.
After recent science flybys of the gas giant, Juno orbiter has confirmed that Jupiter’s magnetic field undergoes changes over time.
Data provided by the Pioneer and Juno spacecraft reveal small but distinct changes to Jupiter’s internal magnetic field. This is the first time ever such changes, known as secular variation, have been observed outside of Earth.
“Finding something as minute as these changes in something so immense as Jupiter’s magnetic field was a challenge,” said Kimee Moore, a Juno scientist from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Having a baseline of close-up observations over four decades long provided us with just enough data to confirm that Jupiter’s magnetic field does indeed change over time.”
On Earth, secular variation is attributed to changes happening deep below the surface. And on Jupiter, intense winds far below the cloud tops could be the engine that drives the changes.
These winds extend from Jupiter’s surface to over 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) deep, where the planet’s interior begins changing from gas to highly conductive liquid metal. Scientists believe the winds shear the magnetic fields, stretching them and carrying them around the planet.
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The Great Blue Spot is an area of intense magnetic activity near Jupiter’s equator. There, the secular variation is the strongest.
According to NASA, this incredible spot, which is not visible to the naked eye, drives Jupiter’s changing magnetic field.
“It is incredible that one narrow magnetic hot spot, the Great Blue Spot, could be responsible for almost all of Jupiter’s secular variation, but the numbers bear it out,” said Moore.
“With this new understanding of magnetic fields, during future science passes we will begin to create a planetwide map of Jupiter’s secular variation. It may also have applications for scientists studying Earth’s magnetic field, which still contains many mysteries to be solved.”
Researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy. The study could help scientists better understand not only Jupiter’s interior structure and atmospheric dynamics, but also those of Earth.