Five years ago NASA launched JUNO (Jupiter Near-Polar Orbiter ), a probe destined to orbit 4,667 kilometers above gas clouds of Jupiter’s atmosphere. As of yesterday “basketball court” sized, solar powered JUNO was 13.8 million kilometers from Jupiter, on course for the main event set to begin July 4, 2016. That evening, JUNO will fire her main engine for 35 minutes, time needed to slow her enough to gently enter a Jupiter specific “flattened oval” orbit – a trajectory designed to approach Jupiter over the north pole, then drop rapidly below the radiation belt as it moves toward the south pole.
Jupiter’s rotation is so fast, one day is 10 hours. Just beneath the cloud tops, a layer of impossibly compressed hydrogen acts like an electrical conductor, generating a behemoth magnetic field, comprised of electrons, protons and ions traveling close to the speed of light. In a nutshell – a region of radiation surpassing all else in our planetary system.
If JUNO’s radiation shielded wiring and sensor barriers hold up, NASA hopes for 37 scheduled “close approaches”. Regardless of successful approaches, even one will trounce Pioneer 11’s 1974 closest distance of 43,000 kilometers.
Good luck Juno. Rosetta did it, so can you. Jupiter will be revealed July 4.
This “trailer” released by NASA a few days ago begs for high definition and surround sound. Expand your screen, turn up the volume, take in Juno’s Jupiter.