It took five years and covered 1.8 billion miles. On July 4, 2016, the Juno space probe reached its destiny: Jupiter. Its mission is to measure the giant planet’s atmosphere and core in order to understand how the solar system was formed.
The Juno Space Probe Logistics
Juno is solar-powered, with three 30-foot long solar arrays. Because Jupiter is so far from the sun, it takes that big an expanse to provide a meager 500 watts of electricity, but that’s enough to power a computer, heaters and nine instruments. To protect the spacecraft from the extreme radiation emanating from Jupiter, Juno is covered by titanium shielding that looks like a beach umbrella.
The scientific payload aboard includes instruments for measuring microwaves, infrared and ultraviolet imaging, and plasma and energetic particle detectors. It also has a camera that’s already sent photos of Jupiter and its moons back to earth.
The Juno space probe was launched in August of 2011 from Cape Canaveral. On July 4, 2016 – on time, to the day – Juno entered Jupiter’s gravitational field and went into orbit around the giant, gas-shrouded planet. Its current 54.3-day orbit will put it close enough to Jupiter to send back data beginning on August 27.
What the Juno Mission Can Tell Us
The Juno Mission should reveal valuable information about Jupiter’s atmosphere, its chemical composition, and its structure. Its microwave radiometer will measure water vapor in the planet’s atmosphere. These readings could support the theory that Jupiter has moved from its original location in the solar system and help explain where the Earth’s oceans came from.
It also can help us understand how our solar system came into being. For example, writing on Seti.org, research scientist Matthew Tiscareno says, “If Jupiter formed from what was left over after the Sun was made, and if the rest of the solar system (including us) formed from what was left over after Jupiter was made, then Juno’s measurements of Jupiter’s chemistry will give us important clues about our own origins.”
Government, Academic and Private Sector Collaboration
There are several independent entities involved in the Juno Mission, illustrating several possible career paths for those involved. The head of the mission is Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), an independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organization. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is managing the long flight. Lockheed Martin built the Juno space probe and is also providing spacecraft flight operations.
If you think space is the place, prepare now to be part of one of NASA JPL’s future missions. These include sending a space probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa and landing another rover on Mars, both scheduled for the year 2020.
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