SAN ANTONIO – Jupiter is 365 million miles away, but it could hold the key to our existence.
Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and continues to amaze scientists. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, has been exploring the planet's atmosphere for more than three years now, courtesy of the Juno mission.
The Juno spacecraft launched in 2011 and arrived at Jupiter in 2016. Images of the planet taken by Juno show parts of the planet that have never seen before.
The lead scientist of the mission, Dr. Scott Bolton, is based in San Antonio at the Southwest Research Institute.
"I hate to say it, but almost everything we thought was shown to be wrong. We're basically, literally, rewriting the textbook of how Jupiter works,” Bolton said.
The valuable findings are a result of nearly 20 years of hard work from a group of talented scientists led by Bolton.
"I was not nearly as gray when I started this,” Bolton joked.
Bolton waited years for the images from Jupiter to start rolling in, and when they finally did, it led to amazement and awe.
“We saw the first picture was filled with polar giant cyclones, you know, giant storms all over the poles,” Bolton said. "We were, like, blown away, plus it was sort of bluish. We didn’t expect any of that."
Understanding Jupiter is key to figuring out how the solar system formed. The planet is so massive that all the other planets in our solar system could fit inside with room to spare.
"In many ways, it dictated what went on in the early solar system,” Bolton said.
Jupiter was likely the first planet, meaning Juno’s discoveries could unlock mysteries about the solar system and its origins.
"There were a lot of big surprises,” Bolton said.
Those surprises include an odd asymmetry, a "great blue spot," a fuzzy core and wild weather.
"It must be snowing and raining and hailing all over the place,” Bolton said. There's tons of lightning all over the planet."
The stunning images that Juno is producing look like a work of art, with Jupiter turning out to be a true masterpiece. More valuable data and incredible pictures are expected as Juno’s orbit brings it even closer to Jupiter.
The mission is scheduled to last another two years.
If you would like to learn more about the mission from Bolton, the Tobin Center will be hosting “Juno’s Gift: Touching Jupiter, A Conversation with Scott Bolton" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19.