NASA has been getting up close and personal with Jupiter over the past few years, thanks to its Juno spacecraft which is orbiting the gas giant. The space agency’s mission has revealed a plethora of secrets about Jupiter while also presenting some stunning images.
Juno’s latest images reveal clouds on top of the gas giant in stunning and high definition detail.
NASA said on its website: “Thick white clouds are present in this JunoCam image of Jupiter’s equatorial zone. These clouds complicate the interpretation of infrared measurements of water.
“At microwave frequencies, the same clouds are transparent, allowing Juno’s Microwave Radiometer to measure water deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere.”
Jupiter is known as the ‘King of the Solar System’ due to its sheer size.
The planet beyond Mars is named as such because it is by far the biggest planet in our galactic neighbourhood with a diameter 10 times smaller than the Sun – by comparison, Earth’s diameter is 109 times smaller than the Sun.
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Jupiter plays a huge part in protecting Earth from asteroids, some experts believe.
The massive planet has such a strong gravitational pull that it helps to keep the asteroid belt – located between Mars and the gas giant – in place so space rocks are not flying around the solar system.
It is also theorised the planet draws loose asteroids, comets and meteors in.
NASA has said on its website: “Astronomers think that if it were not for the giant planet Jupiter exerting its gravitational force on the asteroids in the belt, the inner planets would be constantly bombarded by large asteroids.
“The presence of Jupiter actually protects Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars from repeated asteroid collisions!”.
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However, research also found these asteroids in the gas giant’s orbit can push and shove each other to the point where they are ejected from the pull of Jupiter and alter their trajectory.
Some of these asteroids could end up on a collision with Earth.
Kenta Oshima, a researcher at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, wrote in the research paper that the objects which are of the biggest worry are the ones that are on a high-inclination of the solar plane.
The solar plane is the relatively flat and equal level which planets orbit the Sun on – anything above this has a high-inclination.
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Objects with a high-inclination dip in and out of the planets and other celestial objects, interacting with the gravitational pull of all that is around them.
As they do, their trajectories can slightly change, which is what could push them Earth’s way.
Mr Oshima wrote: “We pointed out the possibility that populations of undetected potentially hazardous asteroids exist at high-inclination locations of these objects.
“We point out that populations of undetected potentially hazardous asteroids of high eccentricity and inclination may reside in Jupiter’s vertically unstable quasi-satellite orbits, which can intersect the orbits of the terrestrial planets, including Earth by reducing their inclinations down to near zero via vertical instability.”