The Juno mission has changed our understanding of the Jovian system. It has also produced some of the most beautiful images we've ever seen of Jupiter and its moons.
NASA has extended the scientific programs of the interplanetary station Juno exploring Jupiter, according to the website of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Juno has been in orbit around Jupiter since mid-2016, exploring the gas giant’s atmosphere, magnetic field, and interior. Thanks to this mission, planetary scientists have learned many new things about the largest planet in the solar system.
The images captured by Juno’s cameras have allowed us to see the dynamics of Jupiter’s aurora, they helped find sprites, flash storms, waves in the atmosphere and its magnetic equator, and so much more.
The agency was advised to extend the scientific program of the spacecraft by an independent group of experts, which concluded that Juno provides unique scientific data and is capable of working further, which is cheaper than creating new vehicles.
The Juno program has been extended with the wording “until September 2025 or the end of its service life,” as the device is exposed to charged particles from Jupiter’s radiation belts, which puts a load on its electronics. The station will not only continue to observe Jupiter but will also explore its large moons and rings.
Juno Mission History
The preparation of the expedition of this automatic probe to Jupiter was carried out by NASA as part of the New Frontiers program, focused on the integrated study of several objects of the solar system of particular interest.
Juno became the second mission in the framework of this project. It was launched on August 5, 2011, and five years later, it entered Jupiter’s orbit successfully.
The name of the station, which went to the planet bearing the name of the supreme deity of Roman mythology, was chosen not just in honor of the wife of the “king of the gods”: it has a certain subtext. According to one of the myths, only Juno could penetrate with her gaze through the veil of clouds with which Jupiter enveloped his unseemly deeds. By assigning the name of Juno to the spacecraft, the developers thereby designated one of the main goals of the mission.
Planetary scientists have many questions regarding Jupiter, and their answers depend on the fulfillment of scientific tasks assigned to the automatic station. Depending on the object of research, these tasks can be combined into three main complexes:
1. Study of the Jupiterian atmosphere. The refined composition, structure, temperature characteristics, dynamics of the gas flow in deep layers of the atmosphere, located below the visible clouds – all this is of great interest to scientists. The spacecraft, justifying the name given to it, looks with its instruments further than it has been possible so far.
2. Study of the giant’s magnetic field and magnetosphere. At a depth of more than 20 thousand km, at colossal pressures and temperatures, huge masses of hydrogen are in a state of liquid metal. The currents in it generate a powerful magnetic field, and knowledge of its features is important for clarifying the structure of the planet and the history of its formation.
3. The study of the details of the structure of the gravitational field is also necessary for planetary scientists to build a more accurate model of the structure of Jupiter. It will allow scientists to judge the mass and size of the deepest layers of the planet, including its solid inner core more accurately.
Scientific Equipment on Juno
The design of the spacecraft provides for the carrying of a number of instruments designed to solve the above problems. These include:
• Magnetometric complex MAG, composed of two magnetometers and a star sensor.
• The space segment of equipment for gravity measurements Gravity Science. The second segment is located on Earth, while the measurements themselves are carried out using the Doppler effect.
• Microwave radiometer MWR for studying the atmosphere at great depths.
• Ultraviolet spectrograph UVS for studying the structure of Jupiter’s auroras.
• JADE tool for fixing the distribution of low-energy charged particles in auroras.
• JEDI high-energy ion and electron distribution detector.
• A detector of plasma and radio waves in the magnetosphere of the Waves planet.
• JIRAM infrared camera.
• The JunoCam optical-range camera housed on the Juno is primarily for educational purposes for the general public. This camera has no special tasks of a scientific nature.
Design Features and Technical Characteristics
The spacecraft had a launch mass of 3625 kg. Of these, only about 1600 kg come from the station itself, the rest of the mass – fuel and oxidizer – is consumed during the mission.
In addition to the main engine, the spacecraft is equipped with four modules of orientation engines. The power supply of the probe is provided by three 9-meter solar panels. The diameter of the apparatus, excluding its length, is 3.5 meters.
The developers took into account the special conditions in which Juno has to work. The characteristics of the spacecraft are adapted to the conditions of long-term stay within the powerful radiation belts of the giant planet. The vulnerable electronics of most instruments are housed in a special cubic titanium compartment that is protected from radiation.
Portraits of Jupiter
The JunoCam camera, although it does not carry a scientific load, was able to truly glorify the Juno spacecraft throughout the world. Photos of the giant planet, taken with a resolution of up to 25 km per pixel, are stunning. Never before had people seen the magnificent and formidable beauty of Jupiter’s clouds in such detail.
Latitudinal cloud belts, hurricanes, and vortices of the mighty Jupiterian atmosphere, the gigantic anticyclone of the Great Red Spot – all this was captured by the optical camera of Juno. It finally became possible to see the polar regions of the planet inaccessible for telescopic observations from Earth and near-Earth orbit.
It was originally planned that the mission will operate until February 2018. Then, NASA decided to extend the stay of the station near Jupiter until July 2021. Now, the mission has been extended to 2025 or its end of life. Perhaps if Juno continues to operate without major issues until 2025, we will see yet another extension.
All this time, it will continue to collect and send new data to Earth, and will also continue to photograph Jupiter. At the end of the mission, the station will be sent into the planet’s atmosphere, where it will burn up.
Such a finale is provided to avoid Juno from becoming space junk that could be an issue for future large satellites. Nevertheless, Juno still has a lot of time ahead and scientists are counting on it for many new discoveries.
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•Carter, J. (2021, January 04). In Photos: A Year At Jupiter As Seen By NASA’s $1.1 Billion Spacecraft As It Completes 31st Orbit.
• Greicius, T. (2015, March 13). Juno Image Gallery.
• Greicius, T. (2015, March 13). Juno Overview.
• Kooser, A. (2021, January 08). Mars InSight and Jupiter Juno missions get NASA extensions for more years of science.
• NASA Extends Exploration for Two Planetary Science Missions. (2021, January 08).