Juno: Unlocking Jupiter's Mysteries (with videos)
by Dani Johnson
July 18, 2013
Image Credit: NASA
Juno is a NASA New Frontiers mission to Jupiter that launched on August 5th, 2011 and is due to arrive in orbit in July 2016. This mission is unique because it is the first that will be placed in a polar orbit around its target in order to study Jupiter's polar magnetosphere, especially the auroras. Juno's principal goal is to understand how Jupiter formed. By understanding Jupiter's formation we will better understand the formation of the entire Solar System. This will also help us understand how other star systems with planets formed. Instead of having an acronym for a name, this mission is named for the mythological Jupiter's wife, Juno. According to the myth, Jupiter wanted to do some things behind his wife's back, so he covered himself and his mischeif up with a cloud. Juno used her powers to see through the clouds to find the true nature of her husband's actions. Likewise, the spacecraft will use its "powers" (instruments) to peer through the clouds surrounding Jupiter, the planet, and find the true nature of the winds underneath.
The polar orbit that Juno will fall into around Jupiter is one that isn't usually fallen into naturally, but it offers some advantages for mapping. The spacecraft will pass over every part of the planet, but that also means that it can't view any one spot for a very long time. Here are a few video animations of the orbit:
This video demonstrates the way the craft will be able to "see" every portion of the planet:
In this video, you get to see what the polar orbit would look like from a farther vantage point:
Juno looks like a shiny, metal propeller that must have dislodged from some strange craft and got lost in space. There are three "blades" that are attached around a hexagonal body. The engineers involved strategically placed eight instruments on the sides of the spacecraft. According to the Mission Page by SWRI, "Juno was carefully designed to meet the tough challenges in flying a mission to Jupiter: weak sunlight, extreme temperatures and deadly radiation. The spacecraft is covered in thermal blankets to protect it from the extreme environment of space. All of the most-sensitive electronics are placed inside an armored vault to shield them from Jupiter's deadly radiation." Juno's instruments include:
Juno will spin for it's entire journey, which makes it really stable and easy to control. According to NASA, "at three rotations per minute, the instruments' fields of view sweep across Jupiter about 400 times in the two hours it takes to fly from pole to pole".
This will be the first time we've sent a solar powered craft this far from the Sun. The solar panels are pretty big to compensate for the great distance, and Juno will always have to position its solar-side to the sun to maintain power.
Above Image: Juno spacecraft and its science instruments.
Image credit: NASA/JPL
Theres no doubt that we are going to learn things about Jupiter that the Juno team hadn't anticipated, but specifically Juno will:
As stated on NASA's mission website, "The Juno mission is the second spacecraft designed under NASA's New Frontiers Program. The first was the Pluto New Horizons mission, launched in January 2006 and scheduled to reach Pluto's moon Charon in 2015. The program provides opportunities to carry out several medium-class missions identified as top priority objectives in the Decadal Solar System Exploration Survey, conducted by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council in Washington."
by Dani Johnson
@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit