NASA Reunites Juno with Jupiter
On August 5, 2011 NASA launched their space probe Juno on a mission that would take nearly five years to complete. The mission? To go where no other spacecraft has dared to go. The planet Jupiter-- the largest planet in the solar system, with a radius that’s 43,441 miles long and is approximately 588 million kilometers from Earth.
Almost five years after Juno’s launch date, on July 4, 2016 the space probe, during a thirty five minute orbital insertion engine burn, successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit. Now with Juno and Jupiter reunited, NASA, according to NASA administrator Charlie Bolden, will be able to “investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved.”
When the engine burn began at 8:18pm PDT it caused the space probe’s velocity to decrease by 1,212 miles per hour allowing Juno to be captured in Jupiter’s orbit. After the burn was complete and Juno was successfully orbiting Jupiter, the spacecraft turned towards the sun so that its rays could once again reach the 18,698 individual solar cells that power Juno and give it its energy. The orbital insertion was the most challenging part of NASA’s mission, but luckily the space probe worked perfectly and entered the orbit without any issues, “Which is always nice when you’re driving with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer.” Says Rick Nybakken, Juno’s project manager from JPL.
However, despite the success of the mission, so far there are other steps that must occur before the 1.1 billion dollar mission can be completed. The next few months will consist of Juno’s mission and science teams performing final testing on the spacecraft’s subsystems, some final calibrations on the science equipment and some data collection. Officially the data collecting phase begins in October, but according the principle investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Scott Bolton, they have found a way to start collecting data a lot earlier than that.
With the help of its nine scientific instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet's auroras. This mission, NASA explains, is a giant leap forward in our understanding of how titans such as Jupiter form and their role in piecing together the rest of the solar system. With the information on Jupiter collected from Juno, NASA hopes to gain further knowledge for understanding other planetary systems being discovered.