Everything You Need to Know About NASA's Juno Mission to Jupiter

Wednesday, 29 June 2016 - 12:37PM
Solar System
Wednesday, 29 June 2016 - 12:37PM
Everything You Need to Know About NASA's Juno Mission to Jupiter
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On Independence Day this year, we'll be able to celebrate another huge milestone, as NASA's Juno spacecraft is finishing its five-year mission to reach Jupiter. Here's everything you need to know about Juno's long, winding, groundbreaking journey, including how to watch the craft enter Jupiter's orbit this holiday weekend:

When Did It Launch?

The Juno spacecraft launched on August 5, 2011. In June 2013, it received a gravity assist from Earth after a close flyby, allowing it to travel even further into space. 

How Far Has It Traveled?

At the time of Juno's launch, Earth was 445 million miles away from Jupiter, and it's about to reach the end of its journey. But since it has taken many detours, by the end of its Jupiter mission, it is projected to have traveled 1.8 billion million miles in total, which is a whopping 19 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

How Fast Is It Going?

Juno has the capability to travel at 165,000 mph relative to Earth, making it one of the fastest human-made objects in history. While it's arriving at Jupiter, the planet's gravity will pull it faster and faster until it reaches almost its maximum speed. It will need to slam on the breaks and slow down significantly in order to actually enter Jupiter's orbit, but even so, it will be the fastest-ever spacecraft to orbit a planet, at 130,000 mph relative to Earth. 

How Much Does It Cost?

Juno was originally proposed to cost approximately $700 million, but its cost has exceeded that number significantly, to the point that NASA postponed the mission for a time while they figured out budget restrictions. As of June 2011, the entire mission was projected to cost $1.1 billion. 

Why Is It Groundbreaking?

The Juno mission will be a trailblazer in many ways, including being the first space mission to operate a solar-powered spacecraft in Jupiter's orbit, the first mission to orbit an outer-planet (a planet whose orbit lies outside the asteroid belt) from pole to pole, and the first mission to fly with 3-D printed titanium parts, which will be protected by a titanium radiation vault.

What Does NASA Hope to Find?

Juno will map the entire surface of Jupiter, take the highest-resolution photos of the planet in history, and use its science instruments to answer many questions about the gas giant, particularly how it formed and evolved. It will also observe the planet's gravity and magnetic fields, the composition of the atmosphere, and the interaction between the interior, atmosphere and magnetosphere that determines the planet's properties and evolution.

In addition, NASA scientists are hoping that learning more about Jupiter's formation will shed light on the origins of our own planet. Jupiter had a huge hand in shaping our early solar system, since its size and strong gravitational field caused it to destroy many comets and asteroids, clearing the way for more planets to form, including Earth. It's also enriched with minerals that are crucial for forming terrestrial planets, such as hydrogen and oxygen, and Juno will determine exactly how abundant these elements are.

Opening quote
"The stuff Jupiter has more of is the stuff we're all made of," Juno mission director Scott Bolton told Gizmodo. "We're looking at the history of the volatiles that formed the Earth by going back and seeing how much Jupiter has."
Closing quote

When Will it Reach Jupiter?

Juno is expected to reach Jupiter this Monday, July 4. It will orbit Jupiter 37 times over the course of 20 months, and then will de-orbit into Jupiter at the end of its last orbit and kamikaze to its death. The Jupiter impact is expected to occur on February 20, 2018.

How Can I Watch It?

You can watch the live stream on NASA TV, or on Ustream, which will also have a live moderated chat. The live stream is also embedded below, and the broadcast will begin on Monday at 10:30pm EDT/7:30pm PDT.


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