Juno, NASA’s New Spacecraft on Jupiter

spacecraft on jupiter

NASA’s Pioneer 10, 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft have captured amazing flyby footage of Jupiter. Previous encounters showed its intense magnetism, volatile weather patterns and impressive collection of moons.

Juno will come closer than any of those missions to Jupiter than any previous spacecraft; its orbit will allow it to observe both its poles and inner structure in detail.

What is Juno?

Juno is NASA’s sixth spacecraft to observe Jupiter and will take close-up images that allow scientists to test previous theories regarding its formation as well as uncover its inner structure right down to its core. It aims to verify previously held assumptions regarding Jupiter’s formation while unveiling its hidden depths and reveal any structures beneath its surface that have yet to be discovered.

Juno’s instruments can collect detailed information about its planet by measuring its gravity. By tracking Jupiter’s tug as Juno orbits around it, scientists can begin creating a density map of this monstrous world.

Scientists are also using Juno to explore how Jupiter’s aurorae (lights) work. Scientists had assumed that, similar to Earth, aurorae on Jupiter would get their energy from charged particles that collide with gases in its atmosphere, but Juno has discovered something peculiar: lightning storms which create aurorae are clustered at Jupiter’s poles instead of around its equator, suggesting there may be large flows of internal gas penetrating through to reach the surface there.

How did Juno get to Jupiter?

Juno was designed for science, yet also needed to survive Jupiter’s intense radiation belt. Therefore, Juno took an innovative approach: arriving over Jupiter’s northern pole where radiation levels are lowest; whipping around its cloud tops at altitudes well below the strongest part of the belt; and departing just two hours later via another low radiation region near its south pole.

Juno successfully performed three maneuvers that enabled it to enter a highly elliptical orbit known as the polar orbit and begin collecting data about Earth and its clouds and structures, including its uneven magnetic field. Her initial 53-day orbit revealed some surprising details.

Juno will complete 37 orbits around Jupiter, coming within 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) each time of its cloud tops. Her observations should test theories about how this giant gas planet formed as well as possibly provide new ones. After which Juno will deorbit and burn up in its atmosphere – with more details provided on her mission website.

What is Juno’s mission?

Juno was designed to gather maximum data on Jupiter in its initial orbits, giving scientists a complete picture of this massive planet before its radiation begins compromising instruments on board.

Each orbit lasts approximately one month and includes two eight-hour science passes during which Juno’s instruments collect data that’s then relayed back down to Earth by giant antennae of the Deep Space Network.

Juno’s primary mission is to discover more about Jupiter’s gravity, mass distribution and deep winds – as well as whether or not the planet possesses a solid rocky core and what role it played in creating our solar system.

Juno will operate for 20 months and then make a suicide dive into Jupiter – just as was done with Galileo when its mission concluded – to ensure no potential contamination of Europa by microbes from Earth occurs.

What is Juno’s main goal?

Juno’s mission is to investigate Jupiter’s atmosphere and gravity fields in order to ascertain what makes up its composition and how it formed. Furthermore, Juno will study Jupiter’s polar magnetosphere – specifically how its magnetic field creates auroras (streamers of light visible across the sky), while also sampling atoms and molecules in Jupiter’s clouds in order to understand its chemical makeup.

Juno can play an invaluable role in providing scientists with a gravitational map of Jupiter, by comparing its actual orbit with its predicted one and tracking places where gravity tugs stronger than expected. Scientists can use these changes to peer beneath clouds and understand why Jupiter’s polar belts, zones and Great Red Spot shift so much over time.

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