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Photo: NASA/JPL
Photo: NASA/JPL

Juno…meet jupiter

by Kyle Cohagan | UpportunityU

Have you heard of the Juno mission to Jupiter? If not, you’ll find that it’s a very exciting time to be both an astronomer and enthusiast alike!

Jupiter is one of the most important planets in our solar system. It acts as a guardian to Earth from dangerous asteroids, swallowing them whole, or deflecting them into the Sun. For everything we know about this colossus of hydrogen and ammonia, there’s several things we don’t! The King of the Gods to the Romans had a wife named Juno, the inspiration for the craft arriving today to the giant gaseous planet. With 67 named moons (one of which might harbor life, more on that later!), winds that easily top 250 miles per hour, a powerful magnetosphere that would appear to be the size of a full moon in the night’s sky from Earth, and a storm twice the size of our blue marble, there’s still plenty to be explored.juno_spacecraft_big

As I write this, Juno is less than 400,000 miles away from Jupiter, traveling at a relative 44,000 mph! It has mere hours before it starts a 30 minute burn that will put it into a highly eccentric polar orbit, taking it as close as 2,600 miles. So while you’re out eating hot dogs and drinking soda with your family to celebrate this wonderful American holiday, our Land’s 240th birthday, remember that we are out there, exploring the unknown and forming new wrinkles in our polyunsaturated brains!  

Today, we begin to explore some of the deepest secrets of our solar system and delve into clues about the formation of our mighty protector.

Juno is astounding in its simplicity and amazing in its attention to detail.  The size of a basketball court, rotating once every 30 seconds, it is powered by the most potent of photovoltaic cells (solar panels) ever built. Most satellites that travel this far are powered by nuclear fission (New Horizons was fueled with Plutonium).

It doesn’t carry any new technology for its 1.7 billion mile journey, but is packed with the many of the best tools available. Juno carries a powerful digital camera that will take stunning images, and will focus on areas voted for by the public! Go here to help plan and vote!

This giant ceiling fan of a satellite also has a gravitational sensor that will detect any fluctuations in the gravity of Jupiter to hopefully fill us in on one of the greatest mysteries of our gas giant, it’s core. For decades, astronomers have been up in arms as to whether the core originated as solid rock with gas culminating around it,  if the entire planet is being compressed under its own weight and formed a core, or whether it even has a core at all!

Juno is also equipped with a magnetometer to measure the awesome magnetosphere. On Earth, measuring is limited to the external portionof our magnetosphere, as our crust acts as a curtain blocking our view of the field below. “On” Jupiter, there is no such thing as a crust, so we should be able to get a complete view of the patterns and behaviors of the field and its waves of influence. This will also help to determine the mystery of the core, while also lending us the scientific discoveries to understand our own planet and the Sun as well! Why is the magnetosphere of Jupiter so awesome?

Well, it extends 1.5 million miles on the close side to the Sun and at least 400 million miles on the far side! On top of being 400 times stronger than Earth’s, it would cook you with ions if you got anywhere near it! To go along with the magnetometer are a trio of cameras that will help to measure the electrical, plasmic, and radio waves emanating from this beast of a protector planet. Helping to figure out how much these fields are a product of or constituent to the clouds above and the possible core below.

junomagnetosphere-16
Photo Courtesy: NASA/JPL

 

Finally, there is a pair of cameras, one ultraviolet, the other infrared, that will allow us to get more detailed images of the surface and a little below, to help us understand what makes it tick and for some fantastic views of the auroras.


During the 20 month mission, Juno will make 37 orbits, mapping out every detail possible. In the end, it will dive-bomb straight into the clouds, but it won’t be able to send any signals once it is submerged in the gale force winds. This is because the honorable wife to Jove is sacrificing herself to protect Europa, the moon mentioned earlier. We don’t want any chance of infecting Earth microbes on its surface! Check back soon to UpportunityU as I delve deeper into the mysteries of Europa!

So don’t forget to look up tonight and know that we just brought husband and wife together again. Clear skies!

(Editor’s Note: UpportunityU would like to welcome new contributing writer Kyle Cohagan. Kyle is a space and science enthusiast venturing into the world of science journalism for the first time.)

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