On Friday afternoon, NASA launched the solar-powered Juno spacecraft for its five-year mission to Jupiter. The $1.1 billion journey will research our solar system's largest planet, which will study its origin and evolution.
“Gifts, believe me, captivate both men and Gods, Jupiter himself was won over and appeased by gifts.” – Ancient Roman author poet, Publius Ovidius Naso.
It has been an interesting week for space enthusiasts and employees at NASA. Scientists announced Thursday that they discovered flowing salt-like water on Mars. One study suggested that Earth once had two moons, but crashed to form one. Research showed that oxygen molecules were found in outer space. NASA also released more images of the Vesta asteroid.
Indeed, it has been one out of this world week.
NASA’s solar-powered Juno space probe was launched Friday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida just passed noon hour. Juno was launched aboard an Atlas V rocket.
Although there was a brief delay due to a helium leak, engineers received communications from the Juno spacecraft and solar arrays were deployed.
“Today, with the launch of the Juno spacecraft, NASA began a journey to yet another new frontier,” said Charles Bolden, a NASA Administrator, in a news release. “The future of exploration includes cutting-edge science like this to help us better understand our solar system and an ever-increasing array of challenging destinations.”
Juno spacecraft and its science instruments
Juno will conduct a five-year journey where it will orbit around the largest planet in our solar system until 2016. It will study Jupiter’s abundance of water, magnetic field, auroras, core and atmosphere by using its nine instruments.
Furthermore, the spacecraft can finally solve and measure the planet’s Great Red Spot, which is a 15,000-mile wide, 346-year-old anticyclonic storm – similar to a hurricane.
The purpose of this $1.1 billion mission is to learn more about the gas giant’s origins and its fruition as well as the beginning of our solar system and other planetary systems that orbit around stars.
“It is by far the oldest planet, contains more material than all the other planets, asteroids and comets combined, and carries deep inside it the story of not only the solar system but of us,” said Southwest Research Institute researcher and Juno’s principal investigator, Scott Bolton. “Juno is going there as our emissary to interpret what Jupiter has to say."
It will take just one day for Juno to travel from Earth to the moon, which is about 250,000 miles (402,336 kilometers), but take five years, or 1,740 million miles (2,800 kilometers) to get to Jupiter. It will then orbit the planet 32 times.
Juno will travel with three wings that are covered with 18,000 solar cells – a unique decision since a space mission of this sort would require a plutonium battery.
“As a solar-panelled mission, we have to keep those solar panels facing the Sun and we never go into Jupiter's shadow,” added Bolton in an interview with BBC News. “Those are things we can do and still accomplish our science; it doesn't hurt us. But it would have been easier if we could have pointed just any way we wanted. We've had to develop [a strategy], and in fact we've advanced solar cell technology in doing so.”
Galileo plaque aboard Juno.
The Juno spacecraft was named after Greek and Roman mythology – the God Jupiter and his wife, Juno.
The probe will maintain a color camera to provide a rare glimpse of Jupiter’s poles. The craft will include a vector magnetometer, gravity/radio science system, a six-wavelength microwave radiometer for atmospheric sounding and composition plasma and energetic particle detectors and an ultraviolet imager/spectrometer.
A plaque that contains Galileo Galilei’s handwriting and his image will be attached to Juno. It will state:
“On the 11th it was in this formation and the star closest to Jupiter was half the size than the other and very close to the other so that during the previous nights all of the three observed stars looked of the same dimension and among them equally afar; so that it is evident that around Jupiter there are three moving stars invisible till this time to everyone.”
Scientists say Juno will be the farthest robotic space probe to be solar-powered.
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun, is the largest planet in our solar system and contains twice the amount of matter than all of the other planets combined.
Jupiter forms its own miniature solar system with four large moons and about 60 other smaller ones – at least one moon is larger than Mercury. It is also the size of about 1,300 Earths.
Temperatures can dip to -234 degrees Fahrenheit (-147 degrees Celsius). There are thick clouds and winds reach up to 384 miles per hour (618 kilometers per hour). It is primarily made up of hydrogen and helium.
Since it is a gas giant, along with Neptune, Saturn and Uranus, it is sometimes referred to as Jovian.
The craft will carry three Lego figures that represent the God Jupiter, his wife Juno and Galileo.