Juno Mission to Answer Questions About Jupiter

Juno Mission to Answer Questions About Jupiter


NASA’s spacecraft, Juno, has finally reached the orbit of Jupiter after a five year journey in space. NASA intends to use Juno in order to discover more information about Jupiter with this closer look. (Photo provided by Pixabay.)

A NASA spacecraft dedicated to shining a spotlight on the solar system’s largest planet has finally reached its destination.

On July 4 NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered into a polar orbit around the planet Jupiter. Launched in August 2011, this was the culmination of a journey lasting almost five years and covering roughly 1.74 billion miles. Juno hopes to answer questions scientists have been asking for years about the Solar System’s fifth planet during its planned 37 orbits over the course of 20 months.

Juno initially spent two years in a heliocentric orbit. This was done in order to use the Earth’s gravitational pull to speed up Juno’s velocity by basically sling-shooting the spacecraft towards Jupiter. Two and a half years later, Juno would arrive at Jupiter.

The arrival was met with excitement and elation at NASA, with NASA official Geoffrey Yoder saying, “What a feeling. A mission of this complexity to accomplish tonight is just truly amazing.” This is just the beginning for Juno though.

In late October, Juno will alter its orbit in order to move closer to Jupiter, completing an orbit every 14 days. During these low orbits Juno will gather information about the planet. The spacecraft will try to determine the ratio of hydrogen to oxygen on Jupiter in order to measure the possible amount of water in the planet. Juno will also try to gain better estimates of the mass of Jupiter’s core.

Juno will also try to precisely and accurately map both Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields in order to better understand how the interior of the gas giant works, as well as gather clues about its origins. By doing so scientists hope to further theories about how the solar system itself formed. The Juno mission isn’t just about taking instrument readings either.

The JunoCam on board the spacecraft will send data and high resolution images of Jupiter including its famous Great Red Spot and even its moons. While not a scientific instrument the camera will provide context to scientists for the readings sent back from Juno. The first images will be taken on August 27 when Juno makes its next close pass by Jupiter.

NASA is also curious about Jupiter’s moons as well. Io is one of the most volcanically active worlds in the solar system, while Europa, scientists believe, may have a liquid ocean beneath its surface. The Hubble Telescope has even found evidence of saltwater on Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede, but those are questions for another mission.

NASA will have plenty to work with as Juno continues to send back data before a controlled deorbit and breakup into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The success of the Juno mission is a result of the hard work of over 900 people involved in the project. Juno Project Scientist Steve Levin summed up the effort of all those involved saying, “You get a really great, dedicated team of a lot of people, working really hard for a really long time: You can do some amazing things.”

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