BEACON TRANSCRIPT – After a nearly 6-year-long journey through space, NASA’s space probe JUpiter Near-polar Orbiter (Juno) will reach Jupiter’s orbit on July 4th. Juno will be the second spacecraft to orbit the gas giant after the Galileo probe which reached Jupiter in 1995 and ended its mission eight years later.
Juno mission’s team members explained that the probe would get into Jupiter’s orbit at its poles and will orbit the planet in a north-south orientation 32 times in 20 months. During that time, the probe will measure the planet’s gravity in the polar regions, atmospheric composition, and magnetic field.
But scientists are also eager to learn whether the gas giant has a solid core or not. According to their computer models, Jupiter lacks a rocky core, since it is comprised mostly of hydrogen which accounts for 90 percent of its atmosphere, and helium and other types of gas.
Juno mission is mainly designed to help scientists get a larger picture on Jupiter’s history and present-day structure. Researchers also plan to find how accurate their computer models about the mysterious planet are. They, nevertheless, expect to learn new, surprising facts about the planet as it has already happened with Pluto.
Still, approaching Jupiter won’t be easy because of its tremendous gravitational forces. NASA scientists plan to accelerate the spacecraft to 40 miles per second and suddenly blast off its engines to enter the orbit. But the team expects “extremely unlikely” incidents to occur while the probe will try to get into the orbit.
Juno, which was first launched on August 5, was named after the Greek-Roman goddess of marriage and wife of the King of Gods, Jupiter. The mission is run under the New Frontiers program, which powers the New Horizons mission to Pluto as well.
Juno probe is equipped with eight scientific instruments that will allow it to gather precious data on Jupiter’s clouds, atmospheric composition, gravitational forces, magnetic field, winds (which can reach 384 mph), and structure.
Scientists plan to use the new data to better understand how the massive planet emerged and get clues on the Solar System’s early days. Juno is expected to be the spacecraft that will get the closest to the gas giant’s surface. But the plunges will take their toll on the probe’s as it will get exposed to tremendous amounts of radiation in the process.
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