NASA’s Juno mission lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A few weeks ago, an Atlas V rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral marking the beginning of an exciting new robotic space mission. The Juno spacecraft, powered by the largest solar panels ever equipped on a deep space probe, will spend the next five years traveling to the planet Jupiter where it will study the gas giant from all angles. Juno is named for Jupiter’s wife in roman mythology. She was able to see all his secrets by piercing the veil of clouds he had drawn around himself.
It is hoped that the Juno mission will be able to pull off the same trick and reveal the planet’s true nature beneath the clouds that layer its “surface” (Jupiter doesn’t really have a true surface, as it is a gas giant, meaning that almost its entire bulk is made of its extremely thick and dense atmosphere). Juno is equipped with eight sensitive instruments to study and analyse the vast planet.
Once Juno gets up to speed, it will be traveling so fast that it will cover the distance from the Earth to the Moon in less than a day. At this rate, it will take five years to reach its destination. When it finally arrives, it will park in a polar orbit, passing over the North and South poles some 33 times. After the mission is completed, Juno will be de-orbited – it will plummet down into the upper cloud layers of Jupiter to burn up in its atmosphere. By that time, it will have collected so much data that scientists expect to spend many years processing and interpreting the results. Considering the extended success of the Cassini orbiter, which is still studying Saturn and its system of rings and satellites, I have high hopes for Juno!