While millions of American’s celebrated July 4th with traditional fanfare and fireworks, the NASA space program marked the holiday by firing the rockets of its Juno mission spacecraft, sending the probe into Jupiter’s orbit 534 million miles from Earth.
In November, the spacecraft will settle into a tighter polar orbit, and according to NASA-funded researcher and current UofL dynamic meteorology professor Tim Dowling, will use cutting-edge technology to reveal answers to questions that have puzzled astronomers for more than 400 years.
“For 37 orbits the craft is going to use ultra-sensitive magnetic and gravity detectors to construct an MRI-like image of the interior that is hidden by thick layers of clouds,” Dowling said. “This mission will answer several questions about the formation of Jupiter, which is really the story about the formation of our solar system. For years scientists have questioned whether Jupiter has a rocky core or if it is comprised solely of gas. This ‘MRI’ will give all of us a completely new way to look at the planet.”
The Juno mission also will use a microwave radiometer to search for the existence of water and study the depth and speed of the massive jet streams that streak across the solar system’s largest planet.
“I actually have some ‘skin’ in the game because back in the late ’80s and early ’90s I predicted that the jet streams, which are the predominant brown and white stripes, are quite deep,” Dowling said. “This will be the first spacecraft that will test that hypothesis.”
In addition to being a professor of physics and astronomy at UofL, Dowling served as a researcher for the NASA Voyager II mission that photographed and mapped the surface of Uranus. Dowling is also the lead architect for the Explicit Planetary Isentropic Coordinate (EPIC) atmospheric model used by NASA and researchers around the world to model the weather on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
See more about Jupiter from Dowling in the video below: