First Juno science results supported by Jupiter forecast by Leicester astronomers

New observations about the extreme conditions of Jupiter’s weather and magnetic fields by our astronomers have contributed to the revelations and insights coming from the first close passes of Jupiter by NASA’s Juno mission, announced today.

The astronomers from our Department of Physics and Astronomy, led by Professor Stan Cowley, the UK science lead for the Juno mission, have led three papers and contributed to four further papers in Geophysical Research Letters that support the first in-depth science results from Juno published in the journal Science. The Juno team organised a campaign with astronomers using Earth and space-based telescopes around the globe to collaborate with the Juno science team. These collaborations provide the Juno science team with a ‘forecast’ of the gas giant’s intense weather systems and powerful aurorae to compare with Juno close observations.

A model of the workings of Jupiter’s polar aurorae (northern lights) was detailed by Professor Stan Cowley, Professor of Solar Planetary Physics with colleagues at the University. This model, based upon spacecraft flybys and Galileo orbiter observations, details the electric currents which couple the polar upper atmosphere to the planetary field and plasma at large distances, and offers a comparison of Juno’s early data with a prediction of what Juno would observe on its first ‘perijove’.

Dr Jonathan Nichols, Reader in Planetary Auroras, was also involved in monitoring Jupiter’s polar aurorae (pictured) during Juno’s approach to Jupiter. He led on observations of the impact of the solar wind on the auroras using the Hubble Space Telescope, for the first time confirming the impact of the solar wind on auroras on Jupiter – and capturing the most powerful auroras observed by Hubble to date.

Dr Leigh Fletcher, Royal Society Research Fellow, has led Earth-based observations of Jupiter’s atmospheric weather systems which take the form of dark and light banding of colour as seen from Earth. Closer inspection using the Very Large Telescope in Chile, the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, and NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) reveals that this banding is constantly changing over long spans of time. Juno is starting to reveal the deep processes driving these changes from below the clouds.

Watch a video about the University of Leicester's involvement in Juno: