NASA Set To Launch Jupiter Probe

NASA is set to launch a spacecraft on a mission to Jupiter on Friday. An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket will carry a satellite into space directed on a new mission. The robotic probe called Juno is scheduled to spend one year cycling inside the planet’s deadly radiation belts.

The satellite will travel 400 million miles to reach Jupiter in 2016. Once there the probe will collect data such as how much water, the giant planet holds, what triggers its vast magnetic fields and whether a solid core lies beneath its dense, hot atmosphere. Scientists are also hoping to get information that will tell them about Jupiter’s atmosphere, that may be key to understanding the birth of our cosmic neighborhood.

“We’re really trying to understand the origins of Jupiter, how it formed, the role it played in the formation of the rest of our solar system, and what that can tell us about the solar systems that we’re discovering around other stars now,” said Juno’s principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Colorado. “Jupiter holds a lot of key secrets about how we formed,” said Bolton.

Other instruments on Juno will map the circulation, composition, temperature, and other features deeper in Jupiter’s atmosphere than any previous experiments. “Essentially we’ll be unraveling basic aspects of how meteorology works in an alien environment, thereby extending our understanding of atmospheric circulation and climate beyond the confines of Earth,” said Adam Showman, of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

Only an atmospheric probe released by Galileo, NASA’s last Jupiter spacecraft, has come closer, though that spacecraft was able to relay data for only 58 minutes before succumbing to the planet’s crushing pressure and intense heat. Juno’s electronic heart is protected in a vault of titanium, but it too will fall to the harsh Jovian radiation environment after about a year. Juno’s last move will be to dive into the planet’s atmosphere to avoid any chance of contaminating Jupiter’s potentially life-bearing moons.

By: Pat Prescott
Published: Aug 5, 2021
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