On September 21, 2003NASA deliberately
directed its amazing, still-functioning
Galileo spacecraft to make
one final, 108,000 mph suicidal plunge into Jupiter’s vast
atmosphere. Thus ended the incredibly successful eight-year unmanned
NASA Galileo mission … which had returned against all odds an array
of phenomenal new information on Jupiter and its “mini-solar system
of moons”… in a literal, most fitting “blaze of glory.”
The intent of this unfortunate decision
was to protect Europa, one of those Jovian moons. Galileo’s repeated
Europa observations (below) over the course of its highly successful
eight years have all-but-confirmed an extraordinary model,
proposed and published by this author in 1980:
that, beneath its
several-miles-thick ice cover, Europa still harbors a liquid
water ocean… an ocean potentially teeming with 4.5 billion
year-old alien life!
NASA’s decision to finally terminate
Galileo via a fiery plunge into Jupiter, was designed in 2002
prevent any possible biological contamination of this remarkable
environment from a future random collision with the spacecraft, once
its fuel was exhausted. The recommendation, from the National
Space Science Studies Board’s “Committee on
Planetary and Lunar Exploration” to NASA re the Galileo “problem,”
“This [procedure] is necessary
to safeguard the scientific integrity of future studies of
Europa's biological potential ….”
When NASA announced its “Galileo into Jupiter” option, among those
to publish immediate, serious objections (and later to repeat them
on “Coast to Coast AM”) was an engineer named Jacco van der Worp.
Van der Worp claimed that, plunging into
Jupiter’s deep and increasingly dense atmosphere, the on-board
Galileo electrical power supply – a set of 144 plutonium-238 fuel
pellets, arrayed in two large canister devices called “RTGs”
(Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators – see image and
schematic, below) would ultimately “implode”; that the plutonium
Galileo carried would ultimately collapse in upon itself under the
enormous pressures of Jupiter’s overwhelming atmosphere.
Triggering a runaway nuclear explosion!
Van der Worp further argued that this fission reaction might
well initiate a much larger thermonuclear fusion reaction in the
deuterium (heavy hydrogen) making up a significant percentage of
Jupiter’s atmosphere – ultimately, igniting Jupiter as the solar
system’s second sun!
Needless to say, NASA (and essentially all other observers,
including myself!) thought these ideas “well beyond the fringe” ….
Fast-forward the film to almost one month later… October 19, 2003.
On that night, an amateur astronomer in Belgium, Olivier Meeckers,
secured a remarkable composite “Webcam” image of Jupiter (place
mouse on below image) through a
small refracting telescope (inverted, as in a telescopic view,
On the image, a dark black “splotch” showed up on the
southern edge of Jupiter’s well-known “North Equatorial Belt,”
trailing a fainter “tail” southwest (image center).
Half an hour later Meeckers took a
second set of frames, resulting in a second composite (below image).
The “splotch” clearly was still present, though Jupiter’s
fast atmospheric rotation had obviously moved it several thousand
miles further east.
Over the next few days, Internet stories
began to appear regarding the “new Jovian mystery.” And, they
contained key phrases like, “experts captivated” … and “researchers
scratched their heads about what they'd found.”
From these reports,
it was clear that seasoned amateur and professional astronomers
alike were totally perplexed by the discovery… and didn’t have a
clue as to the cause.
Almost ten years earlier – in July, 1994 – equally dramatic black
markings had suddenly appeared in Jupiter’s atmosphere (below).
Then, the cause was crystal clear:
Unlike those clear cometary impacts,
following Meecker’s images on October 19, 2003, astronomers
immediately discounted “impact” as a likely explanation for the new
“black splotch”; for one thing, unlike the case of the
Shoemaker/Levy 9 fragments, nothing approaching Jupiter large enough
to cause such a highly visible marking had been plotted by any
observers in the months leading up to this sudden new appearance.
“It’s a shame,” I thought, “that
Galileo isn’t around anymore… to take some really close-up
measurements of this thing“.
I suddenly realized that everyone had apparently forgotten one
well-known impact that HAD taken place… just a month before the
appearance of this “splotch” - the plunge of the Galileo spacecraft
into Jupiter, September 21, 2003!
Because… I also now remembered something else: those bizarre
“doomsday” warnings from Jacco van der Worp.
Could the new, totally unknown marking on Jupiter be the visible
signature of precisely the kind of event van der Worp had warned
about…a Galileo nuclear explosion? Could van der Worp, against all
odds, actually have been right about Galileo’s “final mission?!”
I began to do some digging.
What van der Worp had suggested, in terms of Galileo, was merely a
variant on the now well-known design of the “Fat Boy” plutonium
nuclear weapon used against Nagasaki at the end of World War II -
an “implosion” plutonium reaction (below).
In order to bring the sub-critical pieces of plutonium-239 together
in a bomb fast enough for a catastrophic fission reaction to take
place, in the original Los Alamos design Seth Neddermeyer (one of
the Manhattan Project scientists), following on an idea by Richard Tolman at CalTech in 1943, began working on a novel but almost
impossibly difficult idea (in 1943)
for smashing plutonium pieces
together in mere millionths of a second.
Such a device was called an “implosion
mechanism,” and became the key to the success of the plutonium bomb.
At its simplest, it consisted of several layers of carefully shaped
high explosives, wrapped around the central sub-critical masses of
When triggered, the resulting high
energy explosive shock waves (below, right) drove these plutonium
pieces closer together in a highly compressed, spherical
configuration - resulting in a sudden transformation of the many
plutonium pieces into a single “supercritical” mass… and a
resulting runaway nuclear explosion.
The Fat Man bomb (named after Winston
Churchill!), consisting of about 14 lbs of highly refined
plutonium-239 - produced an energy equivalent (“yield”) of
approximately 21,000 tons of exploding TNT,
at an efficiency of
approximately 17 % (analysis revealed that only about 4.5 lbs of the
14 lbs of plutonium actually fissioned on implosion, before the
explosion itself drove the remaining plutonium apart).
The highly sophisticated geometry of the
high explosives wrapped around the plutonium core, and the
micro-second electronic circuitry needed for its precise detonation,
were ultimately the determining factors for a successful chain
reaction in this type of implosion plutonium weapon.
Van der Worp had argued that in Jupiter’s dense, high-pressure
atmosphere, the creation of an implosion in Galileo’s plutonium
capsules was almost naturally assured… without any complex
high-tech explosive triggers or ancillary mechanisms.
“…The plutonium pellets aboard are
protected against unexpected pressures (not Jupiter’s
atmospheric pressures though). Since the craft will be traveling
so fast (107,000+ mph), the pressure will increase suddenly. The
upper crust of Jupiter’s atmosphere is gaseous hydrogen and
helium about 600 to 700 miles thick (2% of the radius of the
planet), followed by a more liquid substance of the two, and
much further in, a more metal version (so it is guessed).
At only 125 miles down the pressure
is already 23 bars (Galileo would go from 1/2 bar to 23 bars in
4 seconds). If the craft is traveling at 107,000+ miles/hr, and
the pellets (not the craft) last 20 seconds in Jupiter’s hostile
atmosphere before imploding, they would have traveled
approximately 500-600 miles inward if one accounts for the craft
slowing down after entry. This is about the thickness of the
more gaseous part of the atmosphere (this is assuming a
At this point, the pressure would be
in the thousands of bars because the increase is exponential,
not to mention the temperatures generated at this speed would be
“undergoes a phase transition to the
alpha state [highest density] at relatively low pressures (tens
of kilobars, i.e. tens of thousands of atmospheres)….”
In other words, the physics of implosion
dictates that extreme external pressures, reaching tens of thousands
of Earth normal atmospheres (1 “bar”), can initiate supercriticality
in certain plutonium alloys. In a weapon, this is achieved by a
carefully shaped charge - to drive explosion shockwaves inward…
imploding the metal to “supercriticality.”
In the Jovian context,
this pressure naturally exists… beginning about 600 miles below the
visible cloud decks - far in excess of anything Galileo was
expected to encounter on entering Jupiter’s upper atmosphere in
September, 2003, before being totally destroyed. Van der Worp, in
proposing about a nuclear explosion after the first few seconds of
Galileo’s entry, had apparently vastly underestimated the efficiency
of friction in Jupiter’s increasingly dense atmosphere, which would
slow the various components to a virtual standstill, long before
they reached these critical “crush depths.”
So, even on reexamination, van der Worp’s ideas seemed irrelevant to
the mystery of Jupiter’s new spot.
Until… I thought about the “time lag.”
Galileo slammed into Jupiter’s atmosphere September 21st. Meeckers
photographed his mysterious “dark marking” October 19th. If Galileo,
by creating an explosion, was somehow responsible for this new
blemish… why the one month lag between these two events? Van der
Worp’s scenario had a Galileo plutonium explosion happening almost
as soon as the spacecraft hurtled into the Jovian atmosphere….
Suddenly, I realized that this was the missing puzzle piece -
apparently not fully appreciated even by van der Worp; that time lag
could be the key to resolving this entire “Galileo bomb” scenario…
and the mystery of Jupiter’s “new spot.”
It all hinged on how far into Jupiter the spacecraft (or, more
accurately, it’s plutonium canisters) would have to plunge - intact!
- before encountering external atmospheric pressures sufficient for
“implosion. In other words, how long would it have really taken
Galileo’s plutonium - assuming it survived its fiery entry in the
first place - to have fallen ~600 miles…?
I began to sketch out a possible scenario.
September 21st: Galileo enters
Jupiter’s atmosphere at over 30 miles per second. It is
traveling almost in the plane of Jupiter’s equator, at an angle
of about 22 degrees to the horizontal (below).
As the more fragile parts of the
spacecraft disintegrate from the enormous entry temperatures and
pressures, its two 4-ft long, 124-lb RTGs - each containing 72
individual plutonium-238 capsules - separate from the main
Soon, the relatively fragile
aluminum housing of the two RTG canisters also melts away,
releasing the 144 individually sealed plutonium-238 capsules…
to continue plunging deeper into Jupiter’s atmosphere on their
multi-layer containment, each capsule is clad in iridium
(melting temperature 4435 F), encasing a floating boran-graphite
membrane (melting temperature 6422° F), in which the
plutonium-238 pellets are individually sealed - most of the
plutonium capsules are NOT destroyed by Galielo’s violent entry,
but in fact survive… and slow to an aerodynamic fall in the
thickening Jovian atmosphere.
The multiple layerings of iridium and
graphite have acted like individual heat shields [similar to the
much larger (and heavier) Galileo Probe - which
entered Jupiter’s atmosphere December 7, 1995]. After slowing to
sub-sonic speeds, the shielded capsules would have free-fallen
through Jupiter’s increasingly dense atmosphere ... until the
outside pressures inevitably caused them to implode.
question then became:
- how long would it take each free-falling
iridium/graphite capsule to reach “crush depth” - the depth where
the outside pressures are tens of thousands of atmospheres, ~600
miles below the clouds?
The depth where those pressures would cause
the plutonium-238 capsules to undergo a sudden phase transition, to
literally implode… initiating a violent nuclear reaction?
The rate of a free-falling object in a planetary atmosphere is
governed by an elementary equation, known as “Stokes law”:
V = (2gr²)(d1-d2)/9µ
V = velocity of fall (cm sec-¹)
g = acceleration of
gravity (cm sec-²)
r = "equivalent" radius
of particle (cm)
d1 = density of particle
(g cm -³)
d2 = density of medium
µ = viscosity of medium
(dyne sec cm-²)
What this translates to is this:
For a given atmospheric density, an
object of a given mass and surface area, under a given
gravitational acceleration, will fall at a given rate. Denser
objects (less surface area for their given weight) fall faster
than lighter ones (this is due to simple air resistance, and NOT
any non-Newtonian aspects of the laws of gravitation!).
In other words, the higher the outside
gas pressure on Jupiter… the slower Galileo’s capsules would fall.
For a 6-foot, 200-lb human in Earth’s gravity, surrounded by its one
bar atmospheric pressure, the final rate of fall is approximately
120 miles per hour - called its “terminal velocity.” On Jupiter,
with a cloud-top gravity about 2.4 times Earth’s, and an upper
atmospheric pressure less than a tenth of Earth’s, the initial rate
of free-fall for an object with a similar mass-to-surface area (like
Galileo’s RTGs) would be about 3000 mph.
But, by the time the RTGs had
disintegrated and released their 144 plutonium individual capsules,
the atmospheric density/pressure would have risen to several times
the Earth’s, and the surface area to weight ratio of the smaller
plutonium capsules (1.5-inch by 1-inch cylinders) is MUCH greater
than for the RTGs themselves.
This would cut their free-fall velocity
by a corresponding amount… to around 150 mph at this altitude.
As the capsules continue to fall
deeper through the primarily hydrogen atmosphere, the
surrounding pressure/density continues to rise, to thousands of
times Earth’s surface density and pressure. The capsules are now
falling at a constant rate, approximately one mile per hour… as
the atmosphere transitions to an incompressible fluid, liquid
At this ultra-slow “terminal
velocity,” it takes the Galileo plutonium-238 capsules on the
order of 700 hours – a month! to fall to a depth inside Jupiter
(~700 miles below the visible clouds) where the outside pressure
of the surrounding liquid hydrogen literally crushes the
plutonium capsules into a supercritical state
At this point, one of the capsules
randomly implodes… and initiates, via the resulting shockwave
and intense neutron shower, a runaway nuclear chain reaction in
all the other surviving capsules, now spread in a spherical
falling “cloud” a few tens of miles across ~700 miles below
Jupiter’s visible “surface.” The resulting cascade nuclear
detonation of all the surviving capsules totals several tens of
A single month …
The simultaneous detonation of over 40 lbs of plutonium-238, over
700 miles below Jupiter’s cloud tops, instantly creates a
superheated “bubble” of “million-degree plasma” deep inside Jupiter,
tens miles across. Initially, this bubble has an expansion pressure
of over fifty million atmospheres per square inch. Because the
outside Jovian “mantle” pressure is approximately ten thousand
atmospheres at this depth, the plasma sphere rapidly expands… to a
diameter over fifty times as great... until the inside and outside
Because of the extreme low density
inside this super-heated sphere, and the higher Jovian gravity (2.4
times “Earth normal), the buoyancy forces are immense. The “bubble”
immediately begins to ascend toward the visible surface, 600 miles
above - rising at an extraordinary rate of several hundred miles
[In the “Ivy Mike”
1952 nuclear test in
the Pacific (above image), the fireball rose to a height of 57,000 feet in
only 90 seconds – which translates to a velocity of over 400 miles
per hour! In the much higher pressure Jovian environment, the ascent
rate of such a high-temperature, low density plasma bubble could
well be ~1000 miles per hour, before slowing drastically as the
“bubble” nears the top of the visible (lower density) atmosphere….]
At this rate of ascent, the bubble (also constantly expanding, as
the surrounding atmospheric pressure lessens – until it is several
thousand miles across) breaks the “surface” of the Jovian atmosphere
within an hour or two of detonation.
The horizontal shear inside Jupiter’s
atmosphere has also moved it north, away from the plane of Galileo’s
entry, until it is trapped by the streaming atmospheric eddies that
form the North Equatorial Belt (below image) - where it emerges as
The intense temperatures of this nuclear
plasma upwelling immediately dissociate the surrounding neutral
molecular “contaminants” of Jupiter’s high altitude troposphere and
stratosphere – water, ammonia and methane are instantly broken down
into their component atoms. It is here that the unique “signature
chemistry” which has revealed this incredible scenario takes place….
The carbon released from the dissociation of millions of tons of CH4
(methane) and other carbon-rich molecules floating at the highest
levels in the vast Jovian hydrogen/helium atmosphere as “minor”
constituents, with no significant reservoir of free oxygen available
to turn it into CO2 (carbon dioxide), when it cools
condenses into countless micron-sized pure carbon particles – “lamb
black”… soot! Such particles, even though their total numbers are
relatively trivial on the scale of Jupiter’s atmosphere, are
extremely effective at absorbing visible wavelengths of light all
across the spectrum….
It is this unique, dark “carbon” signature - appearing as a dark
black “splotch” in the highest levels of the Jovian cloud belts
(below image) - which has given this entire, incredible scenario away….
Critics, of course, will raise all kinds of objections to this
bizarre scenario. Many we have raised ourselves - like the low
probability of Galileo’s plutonium even surviving entry - at 108,000
miles per hour! - to reach the necessary “crush depth” for
A far more serious objection is that the nuclear fuel Galileo
carried - plutonium-238 - while ideal as a sustained heat source for
making electricity via thermoelectric technology, is NOT
traditionally viewed as a fissionable material appropriate for
creating nuclear explosions. The plutonium isotope vastly preferred
for the original “Fat Man” weapon was plutonium-239 - which, by not
emitting an excess of neutrons prior to achieving supercriticality,
allowed the construction of an actual implosion plutonium weapon.
a little-known US nuclear weapons test, carried out
underground at the Atomic Energy Commission’s Nevada test site (now
operated by the Department of Energy), demonstrated in 1962 that
“reactor-grade” plutonium - a mix of isotopes, including
plutonium-238 - could be successfully imploded.
Because of the extended Galileo mission,
and the pre-production of the plutonium-238 fuel capsules before its
launch (coupled with their unique design – which incorporated a
layering of neutron-emitting uranium-234 into their construction),
long-term creation of significant quantities of highly fissionable
plutonium-239 across the fifteen years since the mission was
launched cannot be ruled out of the eventual Galileo plutonium
ceramics… by the time they were deliberately plunged into Jupiter.
So, did any of this really happen?
The deliberate destruction of Galileo to “save” Europa, and the
sudden appearance of “a mysterious dark splotch” on Jupiter just one
month later - precisely time enough to get the entering plutonium
down to a depth where it could catastrophically implode - is truly a
Admittedly, this is strictly a case of
circumstantial evidence: radioactive debris can’t be analyzed in
Jupiter’s atmosphere remotely; no one has demonstrated that
plutonium-238 can make a “bomb” under Jovian conditions; and there
are major questions regarding the capsules even having sufficient
mass for a runaway nuclear reaction, that is, if they survived entry… let alone falling intact to a depth sufficient to implode.
But, television is replete these days with highly publicized legal
cases where a defendant is tried - for murder, no less – based on
strictly circumstantial evidence alone… like, a single strand of
hair. The case for “something extraordinary” happening to Jupiter -
with NASA inadvertently behind it - is based on a chain of far more
solid evidence at this point.
And then, there is the troubling absence of key evidence….
One of the lingering mysteries surrounding the sudden appearance of
Meecker’s “new dark splotch” has been the seeming total
non-curiosity exemplified by the professional astronomical
In 1994, a new “white spot” suddenly appeared in the clouds just
north of Saturn’s equator. Within days, professional astronomers
world wide were imaging the new disturbance with an eye toward
understanding its origin and evolution – culminating in a stunning
time lapse movie acquired by the
Hubble Space Telescope itself (see
a frame of above
Where are any of the scores of
professional astronomical images - including those from HST - which
should be flooding the Internet over this discovery, documenting the
“enigmatic new phenomenon” that just appeared on Jupiter?!
High quality, early observations of remarkable astronomical events
are standard operating procedure, especially in the case of
planetary atmospheric phenomena - which can rapidly change, or even
disappear entirely if early observations aren’t secured in the first
few days. Yet, by all accounts, for this new phenomenon on Jupiter,
all observations have been left totally to the amateur community….
Is it possible that the professional “insiders,” those at the major
observatories (which get most of their funding from NASA anyway) -
including NASA’s own Space Telescope Institute - know perfectly well
how this atmospheric spot arrived on Jupiter… and have been quietly
told not to “immortalize” another monumental miscalculation by NASA… particularly, at this politically sensitive time?
Finally, if you discount all these ideas as simply “too far out,”
there is one final scenario which neatly fits the evidence currently
at hand… conceived many years ago in “2010 - Odyssey Two”… from the
fertile imagination of my old friend, Arthur Clarke.
For those fans of Arthur who love a good
“conspiracy” - especially if it involves our favorite space agency
(anyone we know..?) - these observers may now discern the
completion of a long-term, hidden goal in this enigmatic Jovian data…