NASA's Juno Spacecraft Will Stay at Jupiter For Three More Years Following New Discoveries
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:
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.
Just keep spinning, just keep spinning…@NASA approved an update to my science operations until July 2021, providing for an additional 41 months in orbit around #Jupiter! https://t.co/12VnqNw7xz pic.twitter.com/3zPJL4y0Xd— NASA's Juno Mission (@NASAJuno) June 6, 2018