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Does Jupiter Have More Water Than NASA's Galileo Detected?

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the hydrogen-cooled-smoothie-please dept.

NASA 51

astroengine writes "Launched in August of last year, NASA's Juno probe is on a Kamikaze mission to go prospecting for water on Jupiter. Although its predecessor, NASA's Galileo spacecraft, took a death-dive into the gas giant it didn't detect any signs of water in its atmosphere. Why? Fran Bagenela, of the University of Colorado, told a group of scientists at the recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Anchorage, Alaska, that the Galileo probe fell at the boundary between one of the brown atmospheric zones and white belts that form a striped pattern across the planet's face. This gap region could have been unusually dry, she added. Now it's up to Juno to investigate when it enters orbit around Jupiter in 2016."

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51 comments

Brown atmospheric zone (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40446691)

I am sitting in a brown atmospheric zone right now that is formed from a striped region in my underwear.

It's a big planet (2)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 2 years ago | (#40446711)

Could take a while (and more than two probes) to explore it.

Re:It's a big planet (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40447115)

More than that, it is a gas giant. I can't imagine there being much water there that could be easily gotten even if it did exist. I would think that the moons would be a much more interesting and useful place to probe.

Re:It's a big planet (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 2 years ago | (#40447387)

Exactly! By harvesting water from Jupiter's rings and moons, a spacecraft would have enough propellant for long term stays, assuming the anti-NERVA folk don't shut it down.

Re:It's a big planet (1)

Dr Fro (169927) | about 2 years ago | (#40448301)

See "The Martian Way" by Isaac Asimov"

Re:It's a big planet (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#40452475)

Thank you for posting that! I was going to, but couldn't remember the name of the story. For those who may not have read it, Martians (decended from people who immigrated from Earth) need water, and Earth's dumb politicians won't let them have some (Asimov goes into the political details iirc) so they go to Saturn to harvest its rings.

Of course, anybody who's at slashdot who hasn't read Asimov, WHY NOT???

Re:It's a big planet (4, Informative)

Aglassis (10161) | about 2 years ago | (#40448169)

Actually it should have lots of water because it is a gas giant. Jupiter is past the Frost Line [wikipedia.org]. This means that water can form ice crystals past this point. Inside the Frost Line, the solar wind and radiation pressure force gaseous water out. This is one of the reasons that the inner planets have so little water. Outside, ice crystals can accumulate. This is probably what allowed the gas giants to rapidly accumulate mass before the Sun blew its nebula out of the Solar System. In fact, the planets Uranus and Neptune are commonly referred to as "ice giants" due to the significant amount of water they contain.

To summarize, Jupiter should have a lot of water.

Re:It's a big planet (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 2 years ago | (#40448897)

More than that, it is a gas giant. I can't imagine there being much water there that could be easily gotten even if it did exist. I would think that the moons would be a much more interesting and useful place to probe.

Um... what? TFA:

The spacecraft will focus on exploring the inner workings of Jupiter. "We're sending Juno out there to try to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter, ... to explain how much water there is, what it's like inside, what the atmosphere is like," Fran Bagenela of the University of Colorado told a group of scientists at the recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Anchorage, Alaska.

Looking for water on Jupiter's moons will not in any way answer the question of how wet is Jupiter. Considering we don't know if they formed in the same place and out of the same material or not, it'd actually be a pretty useless place to probe. Might be interesting in and of itself, but not very useful for answering the question.

Re:It's a big planet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40447197)

Could take a while (and more than two probes) to explore it.

That would be my experience, based on Mass Effect.

Not an entry probe (4, Informative)

mbone (558574) | about 2 years ago | (#40446715)

Just because I know that some will be confused by the summary, Juno is purely an orbiter. It doesn't have an entry probe. So, it can look for water, but it is has to do it from orbit.

Re:Not an entry probe (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#40448011)

correct, it will use a very, very long drinking straw.

Re:Not an entry probe (3, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 2 years ago | (#40450025)

correct, it will use a very, very long drinking straw.

In case you confuse someone, I'd like to clarify the probe doesn't actually use a long straw but far more technological means. In this case, two robotic arms were installed in the probe so it could correctly hold a dowsing stick.

Jupiter has water (3, Interesting)

neonv (803374) | about 2 years ago | (#40446785)

We saw the comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 [wikipedia.org] hit Jupiter in 1994. Being such a gravity giant, it's likely to have been hit by many comets. Since comets are full of water, there's no question about water present on Jupiter. The problem is the large size, gravitational pull, pressure, extreme weather, regular asteroid impacts, and, I can't stress this enough, it's a big ball of gas. I'm as interested in Jupiter as any nerd, but it's not as likely a source of life as other places in the solar system.

Re:Jupiter has water (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40446901)

I'm as interested in Jupiter as any nerd, but it's not as likely a source of life as other places in the solar system.

Or our concept of life is too limited. Arther C. Clarke in "2010" [wikipedia.org] had an interesting concept of what life would be like on Jupiter.

If your concept of life in other parts of the Universe is bacteria and fellow bald monkeys, then you will never find it. Or to put in another way, having a concept of alien life based upon Hollywood Sci-Fi - like that crap Star Trek - will have you horribly disappointed for all eternity.

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#40449009)

If your concept of life in other parts of the Universe is bacteria and fellow bald monkeys, then you will never find it. Or to put in another way, having a concept of alien life based upon Hollywood Sci-Fi - like that crap Star Trek - will have you horribly disappointed for all eternity.

Wow - you call Hollywood "crap", and then you cite 2010?

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 years ago | (#40449497)

I think he is citing the book 2010, rather than the crappy movie adaptation.

Its likely that Jupiter has a lot of H20, but it may not be liquid.

Re:Jupiter has water (3, Funny)

Tarlus (1000874) | about 2 years ago | (#40449115)

Reminds me of a book I liked to read as a child, the National Geographic Picture Atlas of our Universe. It had some speculative artwork and descriptions of what life on all of the planets in the solar system would be like. (Including Pluto; I miss those days.)

Their depiction of life on Jupiter [blogspot.com] included gigantic blimp-like creatures and flying, dart-like predators that would cause them to burst.

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

Mal-2 (675116) | about 2 years ago | (#40449525)

Another interesting view of what kind of life might dwell in a gas giant is found in The Algebraist [wikipedia.org]. Though there are some significant issues with the story (namely that the supposed plot line ends up being almost totally irrelevant by the end, and several other sub-plots fizzle into nothing without so much as a lampshade), the depiction of life within a gas giant is one of the more compelling elements.

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

delt0r (999393) | about 2 years ago | (#40451127)

If you do a little astrobiology, it becomes clear that life will most likely be more similar (Carbon based) than dissimilar (hypothetical Silicon based for example). The simple fact is that carbon is just a lot easier to manipulate and is more stable in many different forms that anything else by a really large margin. The next fact is that you are going to find carbon where ever you find silicon or anything else for that matter. Finally water is a really hard solvent to beat. There just really are not that many universal solvents around and there is a lot of water around.

It should also be noted that life needs a lot more than water and carbon. A good chunk of the periodic table is essential for life. Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and many of the metals (Iron, magnesium etc..).

We also know that for self replication you need some kind of information store. So something like DNA. Of course their make up can be quite different and we expect that, but it would still be carbon based life. In fact if their make up is not very different (ie does have DNA/RNA/amino acids) then that would make a very strong case for seeded life since we really don't think this particular combination of DNA/RNA and 20 amino acids are "optimal" in the general sense.

Re:Jupiter has water (2)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#40447027)

it's a big ball of gas. I'm as interested in Jupiter as any nerd, but it's not as likely a source of life as other places in the solar system.

Still its Our Ball of Gas, (until some one/thing capable of stating otherwise shows up), and it would be pretty cool to go looking.

Is the atmosphere such that some sort of balloon with a payload could not float around in it for a considerable time scavenging energy from the winds themselves?
I've read [nasa.gov] where the wind speeds are horrendously fast, but that might not affect something designed specifically to float in the atmosphere.

Re:Jupiter has water (2)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#40447339)

Is the atmosphere such that some sort of balloon with a payload could not float around in it for a considerable time scavenging energy from the winds themselves?

It might be possible with a tether system dipping down into a different layer of atmosphere, but really, you'd hope that there's not enough wind energy around your vehicle to generate power. That's because you wouldn't need much more than that to tear the vehicle apart.

From my experience with high altitude weather balloons, there really isn't much local wind energy to exploit near a balloon. Sometimes you can get banged around by crossing boundaries or "shear layers" where wind direction and speed abruptly changes. But usually, it's real quiet in such a balloon.

Re:Jupiter has water (2)

Bill Currie (487) | about 2 years ago | (#40447079)

Let's see, life as we know it needs...
carbon... check. methane.
nitrogen... check. amonia.
hydrogen... check. comes bundled with the carbon and nitrogen.
water... hmm, well, that's what juno is looking for
energy... check. It's Jupter we're talking about :) Second most energetic object in the solar system.
various metalic elements... hmm, this could be tricky

At 4 out of 6, and I'd be surprised if the other two weren't there somewhere, I'd say Jupiter has a very good chance of harboring life. The level of complexity of the life is another matter, but Jupiters might be more likely to be a source of life than puny little Earth.

Re:Jupiter has water (4, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about 2 years ago | (#40447363)

I think that the 50 years of space exploration shows that we are most interested in life that is somewhat like us, in settings we can understand. Bacteria on Mars ? Fish on Europa ? Yes, launch the spacecraft! Floating life at 40 km altitude on Venus or in the clouds of Jupiter or Saturn ? Not so much. And, yet, the atmospheres of both Venus and Jupiter show signs of being out of chemical equilibria, the essential signature of a biological system.

People need to understand how slowly we are exploring the solar system. Yes, substantial progress is being made, but it is taking a long time to settle even the most basic questions. Ones that are rated secondary (such as life on Jupiter) could take a century or more to address.

Re:Jupiter has water (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40448651)

Do you have links to anything that documents Jupiter and Venus being out of chemical equilibria? I searched for a while, but couldn't find much more than a few lines, and I'd be very interested to know more.

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

the biologist (1659443) | about 2 years ago | (#40449479)

Venus: coexistence of H2, O2, H2S, and SO2.

For Jupiter and Saturn, focus seems to be mainly on the moons which look to have ice-covered oceans. Nobody really knows what's going on in the clouds of the gas giants... aside from the expectation of a range of complex chemistries which produce the range of observed colors.

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

mbone (558574) | about 2 years ago | (#40454243)

Do you have links to anything that documents Jupiter and Venus being out of chemical equilibria? I searched for a while, but couldn't find much more than a few lines, and I'd be very interested to know more.

For Venus, you have to look at the Soviet literature, as they did most of the exploration, and much of that is not on-line. See, e.g., Volkov, 1991 [nap.edu]. There is an interesting "tri-modal" distribution of cloud droplet diameters, and Iron, Phosphorus, Sulphur and Chorline have all been detected at altitude [mentallandscape.com].

For Jupiter, look at any of the color images returned by spacecraft. All those different colors are different materials, probably polysufides, although AFAIK there is no consensus as to exactly which material makes each color. Whatever makes the colors, it must be operational on a grand scale, as the colors are consistent over at least a century [harvard.edu], and the residence times in the visible layers of the atmosphere are much shorter than that. Perhaps the best evidence is the change in the color of Oval BA [sciencedirect.com], where in less than a year a storm complex the size of the Earth significantly reddened [copernicus.org] with nothing else apparently changing. The authors of the above paper postulate an unobservable change in global temperature but, who knows, maybe there is a biosystem that thrives in and colonizes the large storms, and the reddening is byproduct of that. That at least has the advantage of being testable (by seeing if the reddening is a general, but delayed, feature of new mega storm systems).

Now, none of this is proof of anything biological on Jupiter, but if you want to take the opposite viewpoint, the Jupiter biosphere could be immense (comparable to or larger than the mass of the Earth), and still be consistent with our available data. For Venus, a biosphere could be a remnant from the age before the run-away Greenhouse, and could easily be comparable in mass to the maximum biosphere that currently could be active on Mars. Neither has gotten much spacecraft attention; I guess bugs in the air aren't as sexy as bugs in the permafrost.

Re:Jupiter has water (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40447947)

Jupiter does have water. Comets are loaded with the stuff and have been hitting the planet quite a bit for a very long time.
Also as another poster commented, everything out in space is made from the same stuff that came out of a supernova. While Jupiter may be low on metallic elements, it must have some. The question is - is it enough?

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

arisvega (1414195) | about 2 years ago | (#40465229)

Let's see, life as we know it needs...

Life, as we know it, does NOT prefer its Carbon in methane form, and its Hydrogen and Nitrogen in ammonia and hydrazine form. It also doesn't appreciate being baked in a superheated high-pressure poison soup.

Water, which is the ONE thing life-as-we-know-it needs, is still "in trouble" in Jupiter.

Energy? Yes. The Sun has lots of it, but I don't see any monkeys on it. Reason? It is too much, as it might be on Jupiter. Also no bananas.

Anyway, the key to energy is not only to get the right amount, but in the right way. The Jovian moons, for example, may be receiving energy from Jupiter in a proper enough fashion for "life as we know it" to function.

Overall, could there be DNA-ed bacteria and worms swimming about near the "surface" of Jupiter? Of course they could, anything "could". Are they high-priority for a billion-dollar mission? Of course not.

Re:Jupiter has water (3, Interesting)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 2 years ago | (#40447403)

The sun and all the planets are made of the same stuff. http://thesurfaceofthesun.com/ [thesurfaceofthesun.com] The gas giants all have rocky cores.

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

Mt._Honkey (514673) | about 2 years ago | (#40448043)

That's a bit of an overstatement. Early in the solar system's evolution after the sun ignited but before the planets formed, the sun's heat and intense solar wind caused significant differentiation in which elements were located where in the solar system. Most of the light stuff was driven out, which goes a long way to explaining why the inner planets and other bodies are primarily rocky, and the outer ones primarily gassy and icy.

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

arisvega (1414195) | about 2 years ago | (#40452357)

Early in the solar system's evolution after the sun ignited but before the planets formed

That's not necessarily true: last time I checked, whether tha Sun ignited before planets 'formed' is still an open question-- one that also affects the 'iceline' notion.

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

awrowe (1110817) | about 2 years ago | (#40451367)

it's a big ball of gas.

It's worth pointing out that even though it is called a "gas giant", it doesn't mean it is bereft of a rocky core. It in fact does have a rocky core [wikipedia.org] which is suspected of being icier [sciencedaily.com] than previously thought.

In addition, given the densities and temperatures to be found there, people generally assume there can't possibly be any life there. I don't know either way, but I would suspect there is a point within the atmosphere where heat and pressure reach some sort of "sweet spot" which allows bacteria to exist, similar to those found in this study [agu.org].

I would say it is no less likely a source of life as any other of the weird places we've found it on this planet.

Re:Jupiter has water (1)

NH4HS (2670883) | about 2 years ago | (#40452273)

Yep, Jupiter has water, no doubt -- in its atmosphere. Juno is outfitted to find out the abundance of water in the atmosphere as a proxy for oxygen. They're not looking for water in relation to life. The oxygen abundance is a huge blank line in Jupiter's ingredient list. (Kind of embarrassing since it's the third most abundant element in the universe.) The Galileo atmospheric probe (1995) is presumed to have dropped into a dry area, and it didn't get a good measurement of water; Juno's going to make the measurement for the whole planet, from orbit. Most of the theories relating to Jupiter's formation (exactly how and at what distance from the sun) developed since the Galileo probe mission make predictions about the water/oxygen abundance, so Juno will gather the data and help determine which idea is likely to be closer to the truth. Or maybe none of them are right and new theories are called for...

Earth to NASA!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40447031)

Earth to NASA - there's plenty of water right here!

No need to spend millions looking for it on Jupiter!

Reminds me of when the aliens were looking for... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40447151)

Intelligent life, and landed in the American South.

Five minutes with Rednecks had them running back to find a more pleasant world.

Re:Reminds me of when the aliens were looking for. (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 2 years ago | (#40450127)

An alien species with the ability to find and get to earth lands in the american south? Surely beings of such intellect wouldn't make a mistake like that, and land in Ireland instead.

Re:Reminds me of when the aliens were looking for. (1)

arisvega (1414195) | about 2 years ago | (#40452783)

Let's not get ahead of ourselves here- what if:

[UFO lands] "Cathleen? Cathleen! Draw your sorry butt here and get me ma' shotgun!

[alien emerges from UFO]: "Howdee. Now if ma' machanic wuz spendn' half the tahm on the engin' that he spends on the holoroom, we'd be halway to Vega for the pickle contest bah now. Brilliant boah, but sooooo into holographic ladies. Hey, ya wouldn't happen to have one of thems spatial compressors and some such on your shed now, would ya? Ah recon ours is busted.

Truly (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40447225)

Truly one of the most important and pressing questions of the century!

Re:Truly (2)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#40448067)

APSWire - Thunder Bay, Ontario

Canadian scientists are building a probe to detect ethyl alcohol on Jupiter for launch in 2013. The equpment is being assembled in special booze-free "sobriety rooms", with secure booze-locks on the entrances. "Life as we drunken canucks know it would be imposible without this vital hydroxyl of a saturated ethane", said project lead Liam McKenzie

No... nothing to see here. (4, Funny)

theendlessnow (516149) | about 2 years ago | (#40448557)

No. There is nothing to see here.

Sincerely,
The Monolith

Re:No... nothing to see here. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40453141)

Attempt no landing there.

Seriously.
I mean it.
Guys, seriously.
Stop it.
GUYS!..

DAMNIT HUMANS! *sounds of oil drilling in the background*

Monolith (1)

BluPhenix316 (2656403) | about 2 years ago | (#40450297)

We should be careful sending probes into Jupiter, you might upset the the black monolith and then we can't have a binary star system

Galileo did detect water (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40456959)

What Galileo may not have done (I wasn't involved with the research) was detect water directly when it swandived into the atmosphere. But it did detect water from orbit.

During my Master's project I analysed data sets from the Near Infrared Mapping Spectrometer fitted to Galileo and found evidence of water clouds in the Jovian troposphere. It was published in the journal of the American Astronomical Society primarily under my supervisor's name (P. Irwin) though I was name checked too (A. Baugh). It also tied in with some earlier results (Irwin / Calcutt if I remember correctly) that appeared to show some evidence of water clouds.

So I wouldn't be overly surprised if this project confirms our results.

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