Did NASA’s Juno detect an FM signal from one of Jupiter’s moons? Scientists say electrons behind it, 'not ET'

The agency extended Juno's mission after an independent review panel found that Juno has 'produced exceptional science' and recommended NASA continue it


                            Did NASA’s Juno detect an FM signal from one of Jupiter’s moons? Scientists say electrons behind it, 'not ET'
(Getty Images)

As NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars, the agency has extended its Juno mission. The spacecraft, which has been orbiting Jupiter since July 2016, has reportedly detected an FM radio signal, which may be originating from Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. No such detections were previously picked up from the largest moon in our solar system and the only moon with its own magnetic field, suggests a report.

“Juno was traveling across the polar region of Jupiter, where magnetic field lines connect to Ganymede, and that’s when it crossed the radio source,” says ABC4. Scientists believe electrons likely caused the radio emission that the spacecraft observed for just five seconds while it was flying by at 50 km per second, or 111,847 miles per hour. 

Patrick Wiggins, one of NASA’s Ambassadors to Utah, told ABC4: “It’s not E.T. It’s more of a natural function.” But despite ruling out aliens, Wiggins says he does “believe life is out there, but I’m still waiting for evidence to prove it.”

This sequence of four images from NASA’s Juno spacecraft reveals the first views of the north polar region of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS; Image processing by Gerald Eichstädt)

What are Juno’s objectives?

Launched in August 5, 2011, its primary goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. “Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars,” says NASA. 

In February 2019, the mission provided its first scientific results on the amount of water in Jupiter’s atmosphere. The results estimated that at the equator, water makes up about 0.25% of the molecules in Jupiter’s atmosphere — almost three times that of the Sun. These are also the first findings on the gas giant’s abundance of water since the agency’s 1995 Galileo mission suggested Jupiter might be extremely dry compared to the Sun. The comparison was based not on liquid water but the presence of its components, oxygen, and hydrogen, present in the Sun.

An accurate estimate of the total amount of water in Jupiter’s atmosphere has been on the wish lists of planetary scientists for decades: The figure represents a critical missing piece to the puzzle of our solar system’s formation. Jupiter was likely the first planet to form, and it contains most of the gas and dust that was not incorporated into the Sun, say researchers.

Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation, emphasizes NASA (Getty Images)

The Juno spacecraft and its mission team have also made discoveries about Jupiter’s interior structure, magnetic field and magnetosphere and have found its atmospheric dynamics to be far more complex than scientists previously thought. 

Some of its latest findings touch on ‘hot spots’ in the planet’s atmosphere, which are much wider and deeper than anticipated. “The implication is that the hot spots may not be isolated "deserts," but rather, windows into a vast region in Jupiter's atmosphere that may be hotter and drier than other areas. Juno's high-resolution data show that these Jovian hot spots are associated with breaks in the planet's cloud deck, providing a glimpse into Jupiter’s deep atmosphere,” explains NASA. 

This striking view of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and turbulent southern hemisphere was captured by the Juno spacecraft as it performed a close pass of the planet (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M Gill)

Mission to expand investigations

NASA recently extended the mission, following an external review of their scientific productivity. Extended through September 2025, or its end of life (whichever comes first), the mission will not only continue key observations of Jupiter, but also will expand its investigations to the larger Jovian system, including Jupiter’s rings and large moons, with targeted observations and close flybys planned of the moons Ganymede, Europa, and Io

An independent review panel, comprised of experts with backgrounds in science, operations, and mission management, found that Juno and another mission called InSight have “produced exceptional science,” and recommended NASA continue both. 

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s new frontiers program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, built the spacecraft. The Italian Space Agency (ASI), contributed two instruments, a Ka-band frequency translator (KaT) and the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM). 

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