Juno mission halfway to Jupiter science

December 12, 2018, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
A south tropical disturbance has just passed Jupiter's iconic Great Red Spot, and is captured stealing threads of orange haze from the Great Red Spot in this series of color-enhanced images from NASA's Juno spacecraft. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

On Dec. 21, at 8:49:48 a.m. PST (11:49:48 a.m. EST) NASA's Juno spacecraft will be 3,140 miles (5,053 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops and hurtling by at a healthy clip of 128,802 mph (207,287 kilometers per hour). This will be the 16th science pass of the gas giant and will mark the solar-powered spacecraft's halfway point in data collection during its prime mission.

Juno is in a highly-elliptical 53-day orbit around Jupiter. Each orbit includes a close passage over the planet's cloud deck, where it flies a ground track that extends from Jupiter's north pole to its south pole.

"With our 16th flyby, we will have complete global coverage of Jupiter, albeit at coarse resolution, with polar passes separated by 22.5 degrees of longitude," said Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator from the Space Research Corporation in Annapolis, Maryland. "Over the second half of our prime mission - science flybys 17 through 32 - we will split the difference, flying exactly halfway between each previous orbit. This will provide coverage of the planet every 11.25 degrees of longitude, providing a more detailed picture of what makes the whole of Jupiter tick."

Launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Its science collection began in earnest on the Aug. 27, 2016, flyby. During these flybys, Juno's suite of sensitive science instruments probes beneath the planet's obscuring cloud cover and studies Jupiter's auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, interior structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

"We have already rewritten the textbooks on how Jupiter's atmosphere works, and on the complexity and asymmetry of its magnetic field," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "The second half should provide the detail that we can use to refine our understanding of the depth of Jupiter's zonal winds, the generation of its magnetic field, and the structure and evolution of its interior."

Two instruments aboard Juno, the Stellar Reference Unit and JunoCam, have proven to be useful not only for their intended purposes, but also for science . The Stellar Reference Unit (SRU) was designed to collect engineering data used for navigation and attitude determination, so the scientists were pleased to find that it has scientific uses as well.

"We always knew the SRU had a vital engineering job to do for Juno," said Heidi Becker, Juno's radiation monitoring investigation lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "But after making scientific discoveries in Jupiter's radiation belts and taking a first-of-its-kind image of Jupiter's ring, we realized the added value of the data. There is serious scientific interest in what the SRU can tell us about Jupiter."

The JunoCam imager was conceived as an outreach instrument to bring the excitement and beauty of Jupiter exploration to the public.

"While originally envisioned solely as an outreach instrument to help tell the Juno story, JunoCam has become much more than that," said Candy Hansen, Juno co-investigator at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. "Our time-lapse sequences of images over the poles allow us to study the dynamics of Jupiter's unique circumpolar cyclones and to image high-altitude hazes. We are also using JunoCam to study the structure of the Great Red Spot and its interaction with its surroundings."

The SRU and JunoCam teams both now have several peer-reviewed science papers -either published or in the works - to their credit.

Explore further: Image: Jupiter's southern hemisphere

More information: www.nasa.gov/juno

Related Stories

Image: Jupiter's southern hemisphere

July 3, 2018

This image of Jupiter's southern hemisphere was captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft on the outbound leg of a close flyby of the gas-giant planet. Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft's ...

NASA's Juno mission detects Jupiter wave trains

October 24, 2018

Massive structures of moving air that appear like waves in Jupiter's atmosphere were first detected by NASA's Voyager missions during their flybys of the gas-giant world in 1979. The JunoCam camera aboard NASA's Juno mission ...

Juno spacecraft sends first in-orbit view

July 13, 2016

The JunoCam camera aboard NASA's Juno mission is operational and sending down data after the spacecraft's July 4 arrival at Jupiter. Juno's visible-light camera was turned on six days after Juno fired its main engine and ...

Recommended for you

How hot are atoms in the shock wave of an exploding star?

January 21, 2019

A new method to measure the temperature of atoms during the explosive death of a star will help scientists understand the shock wave that occurs as a result of this supernova explosion. An international team of researchers, ...

New eclipsing cataclysmic variable discovered

January 21, 2019

Using the Mobile Astronomical System of Telescope-Robots (MASTER), an international team of astronomers has detected a new eclipsing cataclysmic variable. The newfound object, designated MASTER OT J061451.70–272535.5, is ...

The disintegrating exoplanet K2-22b

January 21, 2019

Exoplanet surveys have yielded many surprises over the years, and the discovery of "disintegrating" exoplanets was one of them. These are planets that produce asymmetric shapes in the dips of the light curves seen as they ...

Total lunar eclipse woos sky watchers

January 21, 2019

An unusual set of celestial circumstances came together over Sunday night and the wee hours of Monday for sky watchers in Europe, Africa and the Americas, where the moon was fully obscured before lighting up again with a ...

Making stars when the universe was half its age

January 18, 2019

The universe is about 13.8 billion years old, and its stars are arguably its most momentous handiwork. Astronomers studying the intricacies of star formation across cosmic time are trying to understand whether stars and the ...

0 comments

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.