Juno spacecraft prepares to launch

August 1, 2011

In one week, NASA is scheduled to launch the Juno spacecraft on a mission to Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, to answer some fundamental questions about the gas giant and, in turn, about the processes that led to formation of our solar system.

Dr. Scott Bolton, director of the Space Science Department at Southwest Research Institute, is the Juno principal investigator, leading an international science team seeking to unmask the mysteries that lie beneath the swirling clouds on Jupiter's visible facade, to answer such questions as does Jupiter have a solid core? How deep into the atmosphere do the Great Red Spot and other atmospheric features reach? How much water does Jupiter contain, and where did the water come from? Juno also will take advantage of its polar orbit to produce images of Jupiter's powerful aurora.

Scheduled to launch August 5, 2011, onboard an Atlas V rocket, Juno will swing back by the Earth in 2013 for a gravity-assisted boost and arrive at Jupiter in 2016. Over the course of a year, Juno will orbit the planet 30 times collecting science data. The idea for the Juno mission began as the flew past the gas giant en route to Saturn in 2000.

"We got the idea to look at Jupiter's radiation belts with the microwave antenna that was used for Cassini's radar experiment," said Bolton. "Successfully mapping the radiation belts gave us the first idea of how to design Juno. By drawing on a multidisciplinary team, scientists who observed the radiation belts in the helped figure out how atmospheric scientists could measure the water abundance in Jupiter, and we'll use that knowledge to eventually help understand the origin of Jupiter."

With a suite of nine instruments, scientists are going to look at the internal composition of Jupiter to determine how deep the colorful surface features persist, mapping the atmosphere's composition, temperature, clouds and patterns of movement to unprecedented depths. Measuring water and ammonia levels as well as Jupiter's gravity fields will indicate if the planet has a core of heavy elements and provide evidence about how Jupiter and the rest of the solar system formed.

"The history of volatiles including oxygen across our solar system is very important to the formation of the Earth and life itself," said Bolton. "We don't know where the elements that formed us came from. Since Jupiter likely formed first and took most of the leftovers after the Sun formed, discovering how it was formed will reveal a key piece of our solar system's history."

Scientists are looking for evidence of pressurized hydrogen that is believed to generate Jupiter's massive magnetosphere, a powerful magnetic environment that sparks the brightest aurora in our solar system. Juno will directly sample the charged particles and magnetic fields and simultaneously observe these massive bursts of energy propagating at the poles to better understand these phenomena.

SwRI will also provide two science instruments for the mission. The Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment will measure the auroral electron and ion populations along the planet's magnetic field lines and determine which particle populations create the Jovian aurora.

"JADE will allow us to make the first direct measurements of the particles that precipitate into Jupiter's atmosphere and produce its stunning auroral displays," said Dr. David J. McComas, assistant vice president of SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division, who serves as principal investigator of the instrument.

The second instrument, the Juno Ultraviolet Spectrograph (UVS), will image ultraviolet emissions from the Jovian aurora, allowing space scientists to correlate auroral observations with JADE observations of the particle populations that create them.

"Juno's UVS will provide Hubble-like images of Jupiter's powerful and dynamic aurora, but from the much better vantage points of directly above the north and south poles," said Dr. Randy Gladstone, an Institute scientist at SwRI who serves as the UVS principal investigator.

Named for the mythological wife of the god Jupiter, who used her special powers to discover the secrets Jupiter was hiding behind cloud cover, the Juno spacecraft will probe the mysteries beneath Jupiter's surface to understand its structure and history. Jupiter's giant mass has preserved its original composition, perhaps providing a "Rosetta Stone" to explain more about the rest of the as well.

The Juno mission is the second spacecraft designed under NASA's New Frontiers Program. The first was the Pluto New Horizons mission, launched in January 2006 and scheduled to reach Pluto's moon Charon in 2015. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the and Lockheed Martin of Denver is building the spacecraft. The Italian Space Agency is contributing an infrared spectrometer instrument and a portion of the radio science experiment.

Explore further: SwRI to provide two science instruments for NASA's Juno mission

Related Stories

Juno Taking Shape in Denver

April 6, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Assembly has begun on NASA's Juno spacecraft, which will help scientists understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. The mission, whose principal investigator is Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute ...

Magnetometers for Juno mission delivered by NASA Goddard

October 28, 2010

Magnetometers developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for the Juno mission to Jupiter were delivered recently to Lockheed Martin in Denver. Designed and built by an in-house team of Goddard scientists, ...

NASA awards Juno Jupiter mission contract

October 4, 2007

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has picked Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services of Littleton, Colo., for the Juno mission to Jupiter.

Recommended for you

Freeze-dried food and 1 bathroom: 6 simulate Mars in dome

January 20, 2017

Crammed into a dome with one bathroom, six scientists will spend eight months munching on mostly freeze-dried foods—with a rare treat of Spam—and have only their small sleeping quarters to retreat to for solace.

Image: Wavemaker moon Daphnis

January 20, 2017

The wavemaker moon, Daphnis, is featured in this view, taken as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made one of its ring-grazing passes over the outer edges of Saturn's rings on Jan. 16, 2017. This is the closest view of the small ...

Video: A colorful 'landing' on Pluto

January 20, 2017

What would it be like to actually land on Pluto? This movie was made from more than 100 images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft over six weeks of approach and close flyby in the summer of 2015. The video offers a trip ...

The evolution of massive galaxy clusters

January 20, 2017

Galaxy clusters have long been recognized as important laboratories for the study of galaxy formation and evolution. The advent of the new generation of millimeter and submillimeter wave survey telescopes, like the South ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 02, 2011
Is Jupiter's atmospherics a greater priority than Europa? Oh, I forgot it was dubya who had the scientific nous to cancel the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.