What makes Jupiter so special? It turns out that NASA’s Juno spacecraft found a peculiar detail that sets this planet apart from all other known planets. Jupiter’s magnetic field is peculiar, writes a study published in the journal Nature.
Two Magnetic South Poles?
Juno reached Jupiter in 2016, and orbited the planet at 4,000 km distance from its surface, reaching both poles, and mapping the entire magnetic field of the planet.
The details from the probe revealed important information on the planet’s magnetic field: it is the strongest one in the solar system, and it even has not one, but two south poles!
Planetary scientist Chris Jones (University of Leeds, England), who didn’t take part in the study, stated:
“We now have a close-up view of Jupiter’s magnetic field, almost as good as our knowledge of the Earth’s field, which took hundreds of years to work out. This gives us a chance to work out what is really going on deep inside a planet other than the Earth.”
The lead author of the study, Kimberly Moore, a planetary scientist at Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts), explained that before Juno’s survey of the planet, Jupiter’s magnetic field was known to be similar to our Earth’s. But these new findings show an entirely different magnetic field, explained Moore:
“We were baffled at first, since the field Juno was showing us was nothing like we expected.”
In the photograph above, the model of the planet had a red dot where magnetic flux emerges from the planet and the blue dot where it returns. Earth would have red at north pole and blue at the south pole.
But Jupiter has a red dot near the north pole and two blue spots – one near the south pole and one close to the equator, which scientists nicknamed “Great Blue Spot.”
Moreover, on Earth, the parts where the magnetic field doesn’t favor any pole over the other is almost evenly spread out between the poles. In contrast, Jupiter’s areas of the magnetic field that do not favor either pole are all concentrated in the northern hemisphere.
A Different Core, Helium Rain and Strong Winds
A reason for these differences could be caused by the planet’s core fluids. Jupiter’s core has high pressure and density, converting hydrogen gas into liquid metallic hydrogen, which is almost as conductive as metal. Researchers think that the internal structure might be at play, Moore concluding that scientists believe that Jupiter’s core “might have dissolved, and mixed with the inner half of the planet.”
Moore also said that the combination of hydrogen and helium on Jupiter should end up in “helium rain inside the planet, and this could alter the magnetic field. Jupiter’s winds might also reach down to depths where there’s sufficient electrical conductivity to affect the field.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.