Countdown to Jupiter: What Will NASA Find on the Giant Planet?
Prepare for arrival: NASA's Juno mission is less than a month or 11.1 million miles away from reaching Jupiter on July 4.
The Juno spacecraft bound for Jupiter was launched in August 2011. Its main goal is to understand the composition and evolution of the planet to give light to the creation of the Earth and the Solar System. Scientists believe that Jupiter is one of the oldest bodies within the Solar System which possess the same composition as the Sun.
"Like the sun, Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium, so it must have formed early, capturing most of the material left after our star came to be," said NASA in a statement.
Today, the Juno spacecraft is 24 days away from reaching the planet or 11.1 million miles; Juno's nearest approach to Jupiter. Upon reaching the planet, Juno will find out how much water is in Jupiter's atmosphere to understand how the planet was formed, affirming or negating existing theories. The planet's composition, temperature and cloud temperature will also be measured. Aside from that, the magnetic and gravity fields of the planet will also be observed.
NASA is also hoping that Juno can peek into the composition of the giant planet to find out if it has a solid core. Jupiter, having almost the same materials as the sun, sometimes appears brighter than the star itself, so Juno will closely monitor the planet's magnetosphere as well.
NASA is literally days away from obtaining all these necessary information, but Juno is working twice as hard to reach its destination. A difficult high-speed maneuver will be performed by Juno to enter Jupiter's orbit.
"We're currently closing the distance between us and Jupiter at about four miles per second," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator for Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a statement. "But Jupiter's gravity is tugging at us harder every day and by the time we arrive we'll be accelerated to 10 times that speed -- more than 40 miles per second (nearly 70 kilometers per second) -- by the time our rocket engine puts on the brakes to get us into orbit," Bolton added.
After the maneuver, harsh conditions on the planet awaits Juno. Reports say that the spacecraft will repeatedly approach the uppermost puffs of clouds at the same time, exposing itself to harsh radiation. But despite that, NASA is hopeful that Juno will be able to succeed it this attempt to be the first spacecraft to achieve the closest approach to the planet according to a report by CS Monitor.
Juno's two-year mission to orbit the planet will start this July. After the mission, Juno will burn itself up into the universe, but NASA said this won't be the end of Juno's mission, instead it will pave the way for new missions based on valued information Juno will uncover in the coming days.