Lo and behold: Jupiter, Europa, ice, fire
If You Go
What: "Latest Pictures Explore Jupiter and its Moons" featuring images from the Juno spacecraft of Jupiter and moons "lo" and "Europa."
When: 6 and 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7, and Friday, Jan. 10
Where: MHCC Planetarium Sky Theater, 26000 S.E. Stark St., Gresham.
Admission: $5 for adults; $2 for MHCC students (with valid ID) and children ages 17 and younger.
Visit: mhcc.edu/planetarium or call 503-491-6422.
Pat Hanrahan hasn't explored the planet Jupiter with an audience in, well, many a moon, but with the help of NASA's JunoCam, he has more images and interpretations to share than ever before.
"It's been several years since I've done a show on Jupiter, but this is from a different perspective," says the Mt. Hood Community College Planetarium director. "We didn't have the Juno spacecraft then. These are some of the closest pictures we've had of Jupiter — the polar areas in particular. There are all kinds of interesting storms up in that area."
Hanrahan will present "Latest Pictures Explore Jupiter and its Moons," the Planetarium Sky Theater's first show of 2020, at 6 and 7:15 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 7) and Friday, Jan. 10, at the Gresham college at 26000 S.E. Stark St.
NASA's Juno spacecraft arrived in Jupiter's orbit in July 2016. The original mission plan did not include a camera, but at the public's request, the agency added one at the last minute. JunoCam now provides some of the most interesting pictures ever seen of Jupiter, Hanrahan says. NASA is depending on amateurs to process JunoCam's images and their results, which are both scientifically valuable as well as artistic looking.
"We don't want pretty pictures, we want science," Hanrahan says of a typical spacecraft mission, "but it turns out there's a lot of pretty pictures you can get from science too."
The goal of Juno is to capture as much information as possible before the highly radioactive zones the craft flies through damage its electronic components.
"It's actually able to look inside the atmosphere of Jupiter and see how deep it is," Hanrahan says. "It's something over 1,000 miles thick — an extremely thick atmosphere below the surface. Also, the magnetic field around Jupiter is a lot stronger than (originally) thought ... (Juno) probably won't last that many orbits."
The MHCC astronomer is inspired as much by Jupiter's moons as he is the planet itself. Those include a fiery volcanic moon called "Io" and an icy moon called "Europa."
The former is rife with active volcanoes.
"When (Juno) passes lo, it could see eruptions putting gas out into space," Hanrahan says. "It's subject to a lot of tidal forces it goes through."
Clarifying that there is no liquid water, he explains that the tidal "pulling and pushing on the surface of (lo) actually generates a lot of heat ... a lot of volcanism.
"Lo is covered with sulfur, which is not what we expected," he adds. "We thought it was dead."
Photos from the Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, and Galileo, launched in 1989, indicated sulfur releases and other intriguing characteristics of Jupiter's moons, which Juno has elevated to another level.
Europa, another of the other four Jupiter moons, may host a liquid ocean under all its dense ice. Energy for melting the ice comes from Jupiter's tidal forces, and scientists believe primitive life may even exist there.
"Being that life living underneath the ocean off the coast of Oregon lives on noxious sulfur gases, we're wondering if similar mechanisms occur in oceans under the icy surface of Europa also lead to life forming," Hanrahan says. "It's exciting for me that life could be somewhere in another area outside Earth in our solar system."
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