What is the Juno Mission?
It’s been all over the news and internet, but what is the Juno Mission? NASA’s Juno mission left Earth on August 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Since launch, Juno has traveled an impressive 1.7 billion miles leading up to its ultimate mission goal of falling into orbit around Jupiter, our solar system’s largest planet. The tiny craft will orbit Jupiter 37 times over a 20 month span, studying the gas giant and collecting valuable data. Even in our own solar system, we still know very little about the mysterious lives of planets. The overall goal of the Juno mission is to help us understand how planets are formed and behave on a much deeper level.
What will the Juno Mission Examine?
1. How much water is in Jupiter’s atmosphere
There are currently several leading theories on how planets are formed. Scientists still know a surprisingly small amount about this! NASA’s hope is that Juno’s atmospheric research of Jupiter will help to confirm one these planet formation theories, or help us realize that we need to create new theories. Unlike the inner planets (i.e. Earth), Jupiter’s massive size has allowed it to maintain its original structure. This allows us to study planet formation as it was in the beginning, billions of years ago. You can think of this as being able to trace Jupiter’s life on an ancestry website.
2. Jupiter’s composition, temperature, cloud structures and more
Jupiter is made primarily of gases, and therefore has no solid surface. It is covered in thick layers of clouds, like the Roman god from whom it gets its name. The advanced technology that Juno is equipped with allows the craft to peer deep, through the clouds for a closer look. This first-of-its-kind view of Jupiter’s inner-workings will reveal key information about what its made of, its common temperature ranges and its core.
3. Jupiter’s magnetic and gravitational fields
Jupiter has an incredibly strong magnetic field. More so than any other planet in our solar system. Astronomers believe this mainly caused by the planet’s extreme pressure crushing its Hydrogen atoms into a metallic form of Hydrogen, which acts like an electric conductor. With such great electricity, Jupiter even has auroras, like Earth (shown below)! In its closeup views, Juno will sample the charged particles of Jupiter’s magnetic field for the first time for a deeper understanding of the planet’s processes.
How and When will the Juno Mission End?
After traveling nearly 2 billion miles, accomplishing a wealth of mission goals and providing us with some of the most valuable planetary information in history, Juno’s mission will end. In February 2018, the tiny, 11-foot wide spacecraft will power down the last of its equipment and plummet to its death. But, Juno will not leave without a fantastic exit! Juno will crash, through Jupiter’s deadly clouds and burn up in the very planet it studied for over two years.
NASA has carefully planned Juno’s death! But, they have done it with the best of intentions. Astronomers, more than ever, are in search of places beyond Earth that can potentially host life. By far, one of the leading candidates in this search is Europa, one of Jupiter’s 67 known moons. It is now commonly known that some of Earth’s most primitive forms of life (tiny organisms) can survive even the most extreme conditions and temperatures. NASA is not risking the slight chance that any of these nearly indestructible organisms are onboard Juno to contaminate Europa. To prevent this contamination of a potential future Human home, NASA has decided to crash Juno into Jupiter, destroying any trace of Earth life in the process.
LEARN MORE COOL THINGS ABOUT THE JUNO JUPITER MISSION!
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