Jupiter, with three of its moons, from Juno’s vantage point.
On July 4 of this year, the United States of America celebrated not only its 240th Independence day, but also a new space victory courtesy of the Juno spacecraft.
That day, the spacecraft–with lifetime budget of $1.1 billion–completed its entry to Jupiter’s orbit after a 35-minute engine burn, and the agency’s administrator–during the press briefing for the event–has suggested that it is one step closer to unraveling the mystery of the Solar System including the Earth itself.
About 24 hours after that, the JunoCam captured the spacecraft’s first ever in-orbit view featuring Jupiter, its Great Red spot, and some of the gas giant’s natural satellites.
Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio–the principal investigator of the Juno mission–has told the NASA press that the image from the Juno cam confirms that the spacecraft has survived the planet’s extreme radiation environment with no degradation thus allowing it to effectively explore the gas giant’s surroundings.
NASA’s Juno mission received the view on July 10 at exactly 10:30 a.m., when the spacecraft itself was about 2.7 million miles–or 4.3 million kilometers–from Jupiter. The space agency says the moons captured by the view are Io, Ganymede, and the favorite of alien life hunters, the icy world Europa.
Co-investigator for the Juno Mission, Candy Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, says that the JunoCam will continuously take images as the spacecraft go around in its first orbit. It is also scheduled to take the first high-resolution image of Jupiter on August 27th when it makes the next close pass to the giant gas planet.
Juno will circle Jupiter 37 times during the principal mission phase. During its flybys, it will probe beneath the planet’s obscuring cloud covers, and study its structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere.
Juno mission in a nutshell
The spacecraft’s main mission is to collect enough data that will let scientists on Earth understand the origin and evolution of the said planet. Packed with nine science instruments–including the JunoCam–it will investigate the existence of Jupiter’s solid planetary core, and map the planet’s intense magnetic field.
Scientists believe that the magnetic field of Jupiter is one of the contributors to Europa’s underground ocean of liquid water through friction.
In addition, the Juno spacecraft will also measure the planet’s water and ammonia in its deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras.
NASA said Juno could be a giant leap forward in understanding the Solar System’s history, how the Earth and other planets were made, and how other planets in other systems formed. That is to say, the spacecraft will also help scientists understand the development of other gas giants in exosolar systems, including the first exoplanet ever discovered orbiting a sun-like star, the 51 Pegasi b which belongs to a class of planets called ‘hot Jupiters.’
About six months before entering the orbit of Jupiter, Juno became the humanity’s most distant solar-powered craft, beating then the record holder, the Rosetta spacecraft of the ESA, or the European Space Agency.
Juno left Earth on August 5, 2011 with the Atlas V 551 rocket.