NASA spacecraft Juno is on its way towards Jupiter after spending the last two years in space. Juno traveled beyond the orbit of Mars and fell back towards earth where it performed a slingshot maneuver that would propel it on a three year cruise towards Jupiter.
Upon Junos return to Earth on Oct. 9, 2013, traveling at about 23 miles per second, the spacecraft used the orbit of Earth to build up the energy that it needed to help propel it towards Jupiter and escape Earth’s gravity; but more importantly, the Sun’s gravity.
Juno blasted off traveling first class aboard an Atlas-V rocket on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Juno made an orbit around Mars and returned to Earth to complete the slingshot maneuver that would give it the speed necessary to reach Jupiter. Juno spins across the solar system towards its destination at close to 160,000 miles per hour, the fastest traveling man-made object. Juno is scheduled to reach the gas-giant, 540 million miles away from Earth, early July 2016 and stay there for a year to collect various amounts of data about the planet.
“We can’t look at our earliest history by looking at ourselves. What we’re trying to do is discover the recipe for planets. The approach is to start with getting the ingredient list, and that’s what Jupiter represents to us,” said Scott Bolton, astrophysicist and Juno’s principal investigator.
As Juno approaches the gas-giant, it will be drawn in by the enormous planet where Juno will perform an orbital insertion burn that will allow the probe to be captured by Jupiter’s gravity and enter into an elliptical orbit around the poles of the planet. Orbiting Jupiter around the poles will repeatedly take Juno across every latitude of the planet as it rotates beneath the spacecraft; this will allow Juno’s instruments to cover the entire surface of Jupiter.
Junos elliptical orbit around Jupiter will also allow the spacecraft’s three massive solar panels to be constantly bathed in sunlight which is 1/25 of that which reaches Earth. The probe will orbit the planet 33 times dropping within 3,100 miles of the cloud tops every 11 days for one year. In fact, Juno will come closer to Jupiter than any other probe before it.
Bolton goes on to further explain the Juno Mission, “[Juno will study] How Jupiter formed. How it evolved. What really happened early in the solar system that eventually led to all of us ... We look deeper. We go much closer. We’re going over the poles. So we’re doing a lot of new things that have never been done, and we’re going to get all this brand-new information.”
The probe will be the first to gaze below Jupiter's very dense cloud cover. This is why the mission was named after the Roman goddess Juno, wife of the Chief God Jupiter, who could see through the clouds he would surround himself with.
The $1.1 billion dollar Juno mission will conduct intense studies of the planet, revealing new information and answering many burning questions about the gas giant system that other missions were not able to answer when in the past. By studying Jupiter, scientists hope to learn more about the origins of our solar system.
Juno will study the motion of the clouds, how the atmospheric features relate to the movement of the deep interior, temperatures of the atmosphere and the composition of the clouds. These studies will also measure the atmospheric density of the planet and will analyze the water and the ammonia abundance in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Juno’s magnometer will measure the strength and direction of Jupiter’s magnetic field lines, study Jupiter’s magnetosphere and explore Jupiter’s poles; specifically, the physical processes that power the auroras. With these studies, scientists hope to determine the magnetic spectrum and time variability of the planet.
The probe will also study the gravity field of Jupiter and explore the distribution of mass inside the planet, findings may reveal the internal structure of Jupiter, and possibly exposing if the planet has a solid core.
Juno will capture many images of the planet with the JunoCam. The photos will provide wide-angle views of Jupiter’s atmosphere and poles. JunoCam is a full color camera designed as part of an outreach program to engage the public interest in the mission. NASA will involve the public in developing images from raw data and helping to decide which areas of Jupiter are photographed.
Juno will also capture ultraviolet images that will measure the particles that create the auroras, much like the auroras on Earth, and an infrared mapper will study the atmosphere around the poles which will help understand the interaction between the auroras, the magnetic field and the magnetosphere.
The Juno mission is very important to scientists studying the formation of Jupiter as the results could determine if new theories will be needed to explain its formation. These results can also provide a vast amount of key information that will help scientist understand the planetary systems that are being discovered around other stars in the galaxy.
Major General Boldan said, “This is exciting stuff. The kind of thing that inspires young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The kind of thing that NASA has become known for, and the kind of thing we’re going to keep doing for decades to come.”
Juno’s principal investigator is Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Steve Levin of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is project scientist. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft and will handle its day-to-day operations. Tim Gasparrini is the company’s Juno program manager and leads the Juno flight team. The United Launch Alliance is responsible for the Atlas V rocket that will carry Juno into space. Launch management of the mission is the responsibility of NASA’s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.