NASA’s Juno spacecraft discovered a new huge cyclone on Jupiter's south pole as the crewmembers worked hard to preserve the solar-powered spacecraft, the US space agency reported on Friday.
Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, was cited by NASA as saying that “the combination of creativity and analytical thinking has once again paid off big time for NASA” which made the discovery on 3 November.
He added that at the time, the space agency’s Juno probe flew 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometres) above the planet to collect data, with the mission team realising that “the orbit was going to carry Juno into Jupiter's shadow, which could have grave consequences because we're solar powered.”
Bolton explained that there was a real risk of the crew members freeze to death because “no sunlight means no power.”
“While the team was trying to figure out how to conserve energy and keep our core heated, the engineers came up with a completely new way out of the problem: jump Jupiter's shadow. It was nothing less than a navigation stroke of genius. Lo and behold, first thing out of the gate on the other side, we make another fundamental discovery”, Bolton underscored.
Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, in turn said in the press release that the new cyclone, which was detected with the help of Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper [JIRAM] instrument, is “about the size of Texas” but smaller than other six cyclones which are as wide as the continental US.
He noted that data obtained by the JIRAM instrument “indicates we went from a pentagon of cyclones surrounding one at the centre to a hexagonal arrangement.”
Mura was echoed by Cheng Li, a Juno scientist from the University of California, Berkeley, who described the Jupiter cyclones as “new weather phenomena that have not been seen or predicted before.”
“Nature is revealing new physics regarding fluid motions and how giant planet atmospheres work. We are beginning to grasp it through observations and computer simulations. Future Juno flybys will help us further refine our understanding by revealing how the cyclones evolve over time,” Cheng pointed out.
NASA’s Juno probe was launched on 5 August, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived in orbit around Jupiter on 4 July, 2016. To date, it has completed twenty science passes over the giant planet.