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 …
The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889: public domain