This weekend is no ordinary weekend for people at NASA. Today, August 27, NASA is expecting its spacecraft, Juno, to get closer to Jupiter. The mission will take the spacecraft closer to the planet than never before, and scientists are looking forward to the outcome.
Juno arrived on Jupiter more than one month ago, on July 4. It is equipped with eight scientific instruments and appliances meant to gather precious information about the largest planet in our solar system. The instruments haven’t been turned on so far because the spacecraft focused its energy on entering in Jupiter’s atmosphere. As soon as this thing was accomplished, the next step is to explore the planet with NASA technology.
The first information from Juno is expected to arrive next week, as photos from the camera of the spacecraft, revealing Jupiter’s poles for the firs time. Further data will be available only later on.
NASA launched Juno five years ago, in 2011. Its mission is to gather information on the water supplies of Jupiter (if any) and to help researchers understand the peculiar storm specific to the planet. Their research shows that the phenomenon is not as powerful as it used to be, and scientists now try to figure out why. Scientists hope that, at the end of this mission, they will have enough information to understand how the greatest planet in our solar system generally works.
Juno is also special because it is powered by solar energy, which is a daring thing to do. Since Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun (quite far from our star), previous spacecraft which were engaged in such a mission didn’t use solar power, but nuclear energy. The spacecraft is able to run 130,000 miles per hour, as this was the speed used to reach the planet.
Scientists are worried that things might not go as planned. Steve Levin, who is one of the NASA team members who worked at Juno, declared:
“There’s always the possibility that the radiation will affect one of our science instruments in a way we didn’t expect. ”
He further added:
“No other spacecraft has ever orbited Jupiter this closely, or over the poles in this fashion. There are bound to be surprises.”
Juno is expected to end its flyby mission today. Afterward, it will go back to orbiting the giant planet.
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia