The latest data from NASA’s Juno spacecraft revealed water makes up a tiny 0.25 percent of Jupiter’s atmosphere. The findings are significant as when the space agency first got up close with the gas giant in 1995 with its Galileo mission, the data suggested Jupiter might be extremely dry compared to the Sun.
NASA’s latest extraordinary find also unlocks more secrets about the solar system’s formation.
When the solar system began to form, Jupiter was likely to first planet which was assembled and began orbiting around the Sun.
As the King of the Solar System – as it is known due to it being by far the biggest planet in our galactic neck of the woods – came to be, it collected much of the gas and dust which the Sun did not absorb.
The likes of the Voyager spacecraft first detected lightening within the clouds of Jupiter, something which typically requires moisture to form, but there has never been an accurate reading of just how much water was on the gas giant.
The latests findings from Juno reveal how variable the spread of water is across the planet, including closer to the surface and high up in the clouds, something which shocked scientists.
Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said: “Just when we think we have things figured out, Jupiter reminds us how much we still have to learn.
“Juno’s surprise discovery that the atmosphere was not well mixed even well below the cloud tops is a puzzle that we are still trying to figure out. No one would have guessed that water might be so variable across the planet.
“Every science flyby is an event of discovery. With Jupiter there is always something new.
The massive planet has such a strong gravitational pull that it helps to keep the asteroid belt – located between Mars and the gas giant – in place so space rocks are not flying around the solar system.
It is also theorised the planet draws loose asteroids, comets and meteors in.
NASA has said on its website: “Astronomers think that if it were not for the giant planet Jupiter exerting its gravitational force on the asteroids in the belt, the inner planets would be constantly bombarded by large asteroids.
“The presence of Jupiter actually protects Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars from repeated asteroid collisions!”.