How Jupiter saves Earth from destruction


Story highlights

Michio Kaku: NASA guided its Juno space probe into a flawless orbit around Jupiter. Now mysteries of planet may be revealed

He says with its size and circular orbit, its presence determines the past and future of the solar system and the fate of the Earth

Editor’s Note: Michio Kaku is a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York. His most recent book is “The Future of the Mind” (Doubleday). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

NASA scored a bull’s-eye with its latest space spectacular. From a distance of a half a billion miles, NASA guided its Juno space probe so that it went into a flawless orbit around Jupiter, only the second time in history this has been done. Some have compared this feat to trying to thread a needle that is sitting on the moon. Costing more than a billion dollars and taking five years, the Juno mission performed superbly, with the spacecraft traveling at the fastest velocity ever attained by any man-made object.

Michio Kaku
Courtesy Michio Kaku
Michio Kaku

The Juno probe itself is packed with scientific wizardry. Including its massive solar panels, it is roughly the size of a basketball court and includes advanced sensors to probe the interior of Jupiter. The Juno mission should also reveal more details of the planet itself than its predecessor, the Galileo mission (which arrived at Jupiter in 1995).

That earlier mission was historic: Galileo was the first spacecraft to orbit and then take detailed picture of Jupiter and its moons, although it suffered from a partially disabled antenna. It took spectacular pictures of the moons of Jupiter, even revealing the possible presence of an ocean under the ice cover of its moon, Europa. However, it did not give scientists as much insight as they hoped into the nature of the planet itself.

As a result, Jupiter itself still remains much of a mystery, although it is the 800-pound gorilla that dominates the solar system. It is so massive that if it were hollow, you could place over 1,300 Earth-like planets inside it. Because it is heavier than all the other planets combined, its presence determines the past and future of the solar system.

For reasons still not understood, it is surrounded by a ferocious radiation belt that is so powerful it can cripple a spacecraft. In fact, the radiation field is so intense that it creates much of the static you hear on a radio. (So you can blame Jupiter the next time you hear static when listening to the radio.)