Tag Archives: Jupiter

Juno mission’s extension reveals Jupiter’s colossal swirling artwork

Jupiter has been revealed as a place where art and physics co-mingle in the most magnificent way.

I mentioned the Juno mission briefly in a piece I wrote back in October 2016. At that time, the project was due to end in 2018. But on June 6th of that year, NASA announced that the voyage around our biggest gas giant would be extended until 2021, with scientific analysis continuing into 2022.

The recent photos sent back by the craft have astonished space exploration professionals and enthusiasts worldwide. The combined effect of the planet’s stupendous size with the breathtaking beauty of its multi-coloured swirling gas clouds has finally been revealed. It sets the mind racing.

We often use the expression “the eye of the storm” when referring to hurricanes on Earth. Jupiter has storms – and eyes – on a scale never seen on Earth. As mentioned in my 2016 piece, wind speeds in its atmosphere can reach 384 mph (approximately 618 kph). If we zoom in, we can imagine that those eyes are watching the other members of the Solar System, waiting to take action if any should dare to stray out of their assigned orbit …

One person who knows just about everything there is to know about Jupiter is Professor Emma Bunce, Professor of Planetary Plasma Physics at the University of Leicester, who described the inner workings of Jupiter in a recent edition of The Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4. She emphasised the significance of the shape of Juno’s trajectory – an elliptical polar orbit designed to observe Jupiter’s gravity and magnetic fields, atmospheric dynamics and composition, and evolution.

Her scientific studies have been wide-ranging, encompassing the magnetospheres (magnetic fields) of Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury, which each have unique characteristics, as do certain planetary moons. But she was also keen to acknowledge the aesthetic dimension which the mission’s unusual orbit had revealed. Indeed, she suggested a resemblance between the latest photos from Jupiter and the work of Vincent Van Gogh.

I’m sure she was referring to his masterpiece The Starry Night (above), painted 111 years ago this month. Who knows, maybe human artists will one day compete for gallery space with scenes captured by future space missions …

 

 

Image credits

Jupiter: NASA
The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889: public domain

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Remembering Jupiter

It’s been all about Jupiter recently …

I watched in awe the gathering strength and ferocity of Hurricane Matthew as he hovered over the Florida coastline recently. Using the wonders of the Periscope app, I was able to empathise with people all along the coast who broadcast their experiences whilst readying their homes for the onslaught. Some expressed their fears; others were angry that their families had decided to stay put and not evacuate; many others gave live broadcasts from the windows of their homes or even from the beach.

I can’t record Periscope broadcasts but I certainly remember a ‘peri’ (the other jargon term is ‘scope’, of course) from Juno beach in Jupiter, a town in Palm Beach County, where so many people seemed prepared to risk their lives as the storm advanced with ever-growing force. They either stood, just taking it all in, or filmed, or even – unbelievably – went swimming. I even saw a hang-glider in flight over the pounding ocean. At least the people shown in the video above were being reasonably sensible, though at that point Matthew had still to reach full strength.

There’s much more drama in this kind of broadcasting. Live, uncut, unslick, unrehearsed … the amateurishness adds to the feeling of being at a newsworthy event in person. Professional, live outside broadcasts are better than studio-sourced replays; but for a real frisson of actualité, give me a peri anytime.

Speaking of the unrehearsed …

Once again, the Proms season has come and gone and there were many performances I wanted to see but either had no time or forgot to set up a recording. Fortunately we now have the i-Player – so all is not lost. Of those I saw, there were some really memorable moments. For me, one particular highlight was the Aurora Orchestra‘s performance of Mozart‘s Jupiter symphony. Astonishingly, they played the whole work from memory, without sheet music.

I would expect solo virtuosi to be able to play major works from memory, of course; but for an orchestra to do so strikes me as something of a minor miracle. No doubt Aurora’s musicians spend much, much longer than usual in rehearsal. But the result is a seemingly impromptu performance that sounds more spontaneous – unrehearsed – than usual, with all the belief and conviction of an orator who needs no notes but gives an affective speech drawn from a well of deeply-laid passions.

In a piece* on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hans Keller describes the Jupiter symphony as “the most important work historically as far as the birth of the Symphony with a capital ‘S’ is concerned”. This symphony clearly has wider significance for the genre. But what does it actually mean for the individual listener? In the same chapter, but referring to music more generally, Keller suggests that we don’t need to know. Indeed, with a nod to a remark by Einstein, he demolishes the idea that typical listeners wrestle with meaning or want to dig down to discover what the composer’s intentions were, pointing to the “supreme paradox” of

“… the ready acceptance of music not because it is understood, but because it isn’t. The idiom sounds familiar … so what more do we want? Do we really want to get down to the clear substance, when pleasantly vague feelings are so readily aroused on the surface?”

We have the composer’s contribution (the writing); the players’ contributions (the performance); and – ultimately as ‘consumers’ – our own interpretation. Full marks to Keller, whose advice, by the way, seems largely to parallel the Reader Response theories of literary critics such as Stanley Fish, Jauss, Iser and others.

But getting beneath the surface was a key objective for NASA‘s Juno mission to the gas giant Jupiter …

juno600b

Whereas Hurricane Matthew’s winds touched 155 mph at their peak, the winds on Jupiter can reach a speed of 384 mph. Hang gliding? I think not.

According to the NASA mission pages,

“The spacecraft’s name comes from Greco-Roman mythology. The god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, but his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to peer through the clouds and see Jupiter’s true nature”.

The task of the Juno spacecraft is to do that very same thing. The mission is almost symphonic in structure, comprising a series of thirteen movements, including its presto launch on August 5th, 2011; then a two year andante voyage around the Sun, including an Earth ‘flyby’; a lengthy voyage to the planet itself, culminating in an accelerando phase in which it reached 165,000 mph before a ritardando “insertion”, slowing it for orbit around the planet; a series of thirty-seven largo , information-gathering orbits around the planet; and a prestissimo finale lasting 5.5 days during which it will be ‘de-orbited‘ and ultimately crash through the Jovian atmosphere into oblivion.

All the while, the tennis-court-sized Juno spacecraft is sending home data and photos of its excursion to the biggest planet in the solar system. The information gathered will be analysed for around two years.

But the mission itself will be remembered for far longer than that.

 

 


* The Symphony: 1. Haydn to Dvorak, ed. Robert Simpson, Penguin Books Ltd., 1966; ch. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hans Keller.

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