NASA's Juno Spacecraft Will Stay at Jupiter For Three More Years Following New Discoveries

Saturday, 09 June 2018 - 12:50PM
Space
Solar System
NASA
Saturday, 09 June 2018 - 12:50PM
NASA's Juno Spacecraft Will Stay at Jupiter For Three More Years Following New Discoveries
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NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt

The Juno probe has been orbiting around Jupiter since 2016, and has allowed us to see the gas giant from a whole lot of new angles since then.

When the mission finally ends, Juno will be "retired" as NASA intentionally crashes it into Jupiter's clouds, to avoid contamination if the probe were left in orbit and one day crashed into one of Jupiter's many moons - the Cassini probe died a very similar death when it was crashed into Saturn. But Juno won't be going out just yet.

While it has been rumored that NASA was going to extend Juno's mission (which would otherwise be coming to a close next month), NASA made the official announcement earlier this week, extending the mission through July 2021. This gives it a few extra years to do everything it was supposed to do for its primary mission.



While Juno has helped NASA make a number of discoveries, most recently the first full examination of lightning on Jupiter, it has been moving more slowly than NASA hoped. That's because Juno's orbit is higher than originally planned, taking 53 days to orbit the planet instead of the initial 14 days due to concerns about Jupiter's massive radiation damaging electronics on the probe.

Perhaps these precautions did make a major difference, but either way, the spacecraft is certainly healthy now. As of now, Juno has completed 12 flybys of Jupiter, and its thirteenth flyby should be completed in the middle of July 2018. Now that it's funded through the next three years, NASA hopes it can finish mapping out the planet in full, even at its current pace.

Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, said the following in an official statement from NASA:

Opening quote
"This is great news for planetary exploration as well as for the Juno team. These updated plans for Juno will allow it to complete its primary science goals. As a bonus, the larger orbits allow us to further explore the far reaches of the Jovian magnetosphere — the region of space dominated by Jupiter's magnetic field — including the far magnetotail, the southern magnetosphere, and the magnetospheric boundary region called the magnetopause. We have also found Jupiter's radiation environment in this orbit to be less extreme than expected, which has been beneficial to not only our spacecraft, but our instruments and the continued quality of science data collected."
Closing quote


Another bonus is that Juno has a fairly large following among amateur astronomers: since all of Juno's raw data and images are uploaded to a specific website (run by NASA, of course), lots of amateurs have taken the image to form their own striking composites of Jupiter.

So expect that to continue through the end of this decade, and perhaps longer - if Juno does manage to map out the planet in three years, it's unlikely that it will be extended again.




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