Magazine article Science News

More Early Findings from Galileo Probe

Magazine article Science News

More Early Findings from Galileo Probe

Article excerpt

While some astronomers ponder the latest findings about giant planets orbiting nearby stars (see p. 52), others are puzzling over the first data from the interior of our very own behemoth. On Dec. 7, a probe from the Galileo spacecraft plunged kamikaze-style into Jupiter. Science News reported some of the earliest analyses last month (SN: 12/23 & 30/95, p. 420).

This week, at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., investigators presented a slew of findings from the 57-minute mission.

Some of the results may force scientists to revise their thinking about how the planets matured, says Richard E. Young, Galileo project scientist at the center.

According to a widely held theory, comets bombarded the youthful planets, delivering a multitude of organic compounds, noble gases, and other atoms and molecules. As a result, the chemistry of the planets differs substantially from that of the primitive solar nebula from which they arose. But the quantitative nature of that difference and the relative importance of comets remain matters of debate, notes planetary scientist Tobias C. Owen of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

Data from the probe's mass spectrometer indicate that several elements, including carbon, oxygen, and sulfur, have abundances closer to solar values than previously thought. This suggests that scientists don't fully understand how the planets evolved, Owen says.

In contrast, another instrument on the probe measured only half the helium abundance of the sun's atmosphere. Researchers suspect helium formed droplets that rained down on Jupiter's core, a region the probe never reached.

A few of the other surprising findings may have more to do with the unusual nature of the probe's entry site-drier and more cloudfree than 98 percent of the planet's visible surface-than with the global character of Jupiter. …

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