Amazing Discoveries From Jupiter

The Largest Magnetic Sphere in the Solar System

Earth’s magnetic field originates from swirling molten iron in its core, generating a dynamo effect. On Jupiter, however, the magnetic field is powered by an intriguing form of matter known as metallic hydrogen.

Jupiter’s massive size creates immense pressures deep within its core, producing exotic matter found nowhere else in the solar system. Hydrogen, typically a gas and the lightest element on the periodic table, is compressed within the planet until its electrons detach from the atoms and move freely. This sea of mobile electrons forms the dynamo that generates Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field. Jupiter’s magnetic sphere is the largest object in the solar system, several times wider than the sun. This vast magnetosphere shields the planet from solar winds, deflecting particles as far as Saturn’s orbit.

While Jupiter is protected from solar winds, the Jovian system—comprising Jupiter and its moons—produces its own energetic particles. These particles are trapped and accelerated by the very magnetic field that shields the planet from external ionic bombardment.

The charged particles originate from Jupiter’s most volatile moon, Io, whose volcanic eruptions become electrified as the magnetic field strips electrons from its molecules. These stray electrons zip around Jupiter at near light speed, releasing radio waves. From a scientific perspective, these radio emissions are problematic because they drown out radar signals used to probe the planet’s interior from Earth. Additionally, the electron shield creates a radiation belt that bombards visiting spacecraft. To mitigate this hazard, scientists had to build the probe that collected these readings “like an armored tank,”, according to Heidi Becker, a NASA planetary scientist and one of the 2017 Juno missions co-investigative leads. All the spacecrafts sensitive electronics were housed inside an electron-shielding titanium vault weighing almost 400 pounds.

Despite the challenges, Jupiter’s powerful magnetosphere creates spectacular auroras when the electrons it directs collide with other atoms in the atmosphere, releasing bursts of light. Given that the magnetic field is large enough to envelop the moons, it also transports ejecta from Io to other locations. Scientists have detected contaminants as far away as Europa, another of Jupiter’s moons located hundreds of thousands of miles from Io.

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to capture stunning aurora in the planet’s atmosphere. NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester)

Jupiter is Too Hot

Jupiter continues to radiate heat from its primordial days. This residual heat drives the intense storms that dominate Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The Voyager mission measured Jupiter’s heat output when it passed the gas giant in 1979. Scientists discovered that Jupiter emitted more heat than models had predicted, with some areas burning at nearly 800 degrees Fahrenheit above expectations.

Four decades later, scientists at the Keck Observatory resolved the mystery of Jupiter’s heat distribution. They mapped the planet’s temperatures, finding it coldest near the equator and hottest near the magnetic poles, where auroras flare most intensely. This revealed that auroras are an additional heat source. Plasma from Io’s volcanic eruption collides with Jupiter’s atmosphere to create spectacular auroras, and it interacts with Jupiter’s fast-moving winds, generating enough friction to raise global temperatures.

Also, did you know that Jupiter actually has a ring?

Jupiter’s ring consists of four faint subrings that float above the equator. Webb NIRCam composite image (two filters) of Jupiter system, unlabeled (top) and labeled (bottom) / NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt CC By-SA 2.0

Astronomers Fight Back

Recently we did an article on the Stunning Photos from the $2 Billion Space Telescope. In it we mentioned that the space telescope, one NASA’s Great Observatories, may soon face an untimely end.

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory, an orbiting telescope launched in 1999 aboard Space Shuttle Columbia, is under financial threat in NASA’s latest budget proposal. Significant cuts to its funding could lead to layoffs for half of its staff by October and potentially end the mission prematurely around 2026. Astronomers fear that losing this vital telescope could set back high-energy cosmic studies by decades. In response, astronomers are grouping together in an effort to save the incredible telescope.

In an open letter, a group of astronomers asserted that Chandra “is capable of many more years of operation and scientific discovery” and that reducing the budget of this flagship X-ray mission would severely impact both U.S. high-energy astrophysics research and the broader astronomy community.

Samantha Wong, an astronomer at McGill University, emphasized the importance of maintaining such observatories: “It’s a huge monetary and environmental toll to put an observatory up in space, so I think it’s really important to value that and to not treat these instruments as disposable,”. Wong continued, “People outside of astronomy contribute to the cost of these instruments (both literally and in terms of environmental and satellite pollution), so it’s in everyone’s best interest that we use Chandra to the full extent it’s capable of.”

Launched in the 90s along with the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope (decommissioned in 2020), and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (which ended in 2000), Chandra was initially intended to operate for five years. However, its outstanding performance has made it a cornerstone of astronomy research for the past 25 years. Despite the natural degradation over time, Chandra continues to produce excellent scientific results. A recent NASA senior review deemed it “the most powerful X-ray facility in orbit,” with the potential to operate for another decade if the ground team can continue their work.

Falling Into a Black Hole

Using a supercomputer and the expertise of skilled scientists, NASA has created a video illustration showing what it might be like to float into a black hole if you were somehow invincible.

Within the event horizon of a black hole, the laws of general relativity break down, making it incredibly challenging to predict what would happen to an object. However, recent observations have provided insight into how light behaves near a black hole.

Several versions of the same simulation are explained in a 4-minute video released by NASA, providing visual aids for some extremely complex physics concepts.

“People often ask about [what it would be like to fall into a black hole] and simulating these difficult-to-imagine processes helps me connect the mathematics of relativity to actual consequences in the real universe,” said Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who created the visualizations. “So I simulated two different scenarios, one where a camera—a stand-in for a daring astronaut—just misses the event horizon and slingshots back out, and one where it crosses the boundary, sealing its fate.”

The video is more than just a visual treat; every feature corresponds with precise calculations that could have been published to great acclaim. The simulation targets a supermassive black hole like the one at the center of our galaxy. The camera was set 400 million miles from the 25 million mile-wide black hole. As it approaches, the hot disk of dust and gas swirling around the black hole, called an accretion disk, begins to elongate and brighten.

The project generated about 10 terabytes of data—equivalent to roughly half of the estimated text content in the Library of Congress—and took about five days, a task that would have taken a normal computer a decade.

The Universe’s Oldest Star

The James Webb Space Telescope is designed to detect stars from the universe’s earliest periods, just a few million years after the Big Bang.

However, a team of MIT students has found that some of these ancient stars might be much closer, only thousands of light-years away instead of billions.

They identified about 65 stars formed 13 billion years ago in the Milky Way’s halo, a discovery that could significantly impact our understanding of the early universe. This research began when MIT physics professor Anna Frebel started a project called Observational Stellar Archaeology, where students analyzed data from the Magellan-Clay telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory.

The Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago, and the first stars, mostly composed of helium and hydrogen with trace amounts of strontium and barium, formed shortly after. Frebel and her students focused on these elements in their data review.

They found 10 stars with low levels of strontium, barium, and iron, similar to ancient stars and dwarf galaxies observed in the distant universe. These stars have about 1/10,000th of the elements found in our Sun.

To support their theory that the Milky Way contains remnants of ancient dwarf galaxies, Frebel and her students examined the orbital data of these stars. They found that the stars moved in retrograde, orbiting in the opposite direction of the Milky Way’s galactic disk and halo. Frebel explained, “The only way you can have stars going the wrong way is if you threw them in the wrong way.”

They also noticed these stars were moving quickly, at hundreds of kilometers per second. Frebel and her team call these stars Small Accreted Stellar System stars, or SASS stars, theorizing they are the remnants of ancient dwarf galaxies absorbed by the Milky Way.

Frebel and her students have developed a straightforward method to identify these stars, providing astronomers with a new way to study the early universe by observing stars closer to Earth. “These oldest stars should definitely be there, given what we know of galaxy formation,” Frebel said. “They are part of our cosmic family tree. And we now have a new way to find them.”

Leech-Inspired Blood Collection

Researchers in Zurich have developed a new blood-draw device aimed at addressing the shortcomings of traditional methods. Needle phobia can trigger adverse reactions like exhaustion and fainting, while conventional finger prick devices often yield imprecise measurements due to the small amount of blood they collect.

This innovation, which employs suction cups and microneedles, aims to alleviate both issues simultaneously. Inspired by the suction mechanism of leeches, the device gently draws blood without causing significant discomfort or requiring specialized training.

The design, featuring microneedles within a small suction cup, minimizes penetration into the skin when placed on the upper arm. According to Nicole Zoratto, a postdoc at ETH Zurich and the lead author of the project, this approach is not only effective but also cost-efficient.

Zoratto envisions the device being particularly beneficial in low-income regions like sub-Saharan Africa, where diseases such as malaria are diagnosed through blood samples. Its user-friendly nature and reduced risk of needle-related injuries make it a promising tool for widespread use.

However, before deployment, further optimization of the device’s material composition and thorough safety testing with a small group of subjects are essential. The research team is actively seeking additional funding partnerships to support these crucial steps.