Cyclones swirl at Jupiter's south pole in this photo from NASA's Juno spacecraft. Credit: Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Topics: Jupiter, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Before NASA sent its Juno spacecraft to explore Jupiter, astronomers were "totally wrong" about much of what they thought they knew about the planet, the mission's principal investigator, Scott Bolton, said during a lecture here at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Tuesday (Jan. 9).

Juno, which launched in 2011 and is currently orbiting Jupiter, is not the first spacecraft to study the gas giant up close. NASA's Pioneer and Voyager missions flew by Jupiter in the 1970s, and the Galileo spacecraft later spent eight years orbiting the planet. Even before that, humans had been studying Jupiter with telescopes for hundreds of years.

By the time Juno launched, astronomers had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the new images and data it would collect at Jupiter — or so they thought.

"Our ideas were totally wrong about the interior structure, about the atmosphere, [and] even about the magnetosphere," Bolton said. Astronomers believed that Jupiter had either a very small and dense core, or perhaps no core at all. But data from Juno revealed that Jupiter has an enormous, "fuzzy" core that might be partially dissolved. This discrepancy between scientists' expectations and the data suggests that there's a lot we still don't know about giant gas planets, he explained.

'Totally Wrong' on Jupiter: What Scientists Gleaned from NASA's Juno Mission 

Hanneke Weitering, Space.com

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