Juno: Exploring a gas giant

On July 4, 2016 NASA’s New Frontier spacecraft Juno will enter into its first orbit around the planet Jupiter. Over the following twenty months Juno will complete a total of thirty-seven orbits before being deliberately crashed into the giant’s atmosphere and destroyed.

During these orbits Juno’s instruments will work to complete the work begun by the spacecraft which have preceded it over the last forty plus years.

Quoting NASA:

“Juno’s principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.”

To accomplish those goals Juno will:

– Try to determine whether or not Jupiter has a solid core
– Map the planet’s magnetic field
– Measure the amount of water in the atmosphere
– Study the polar magnetospheres and their auroras

NASAJuno created a great set of short videos which describe aspects of Juno’s mission.

NASA knows where to look, what to look for and what instruments to use to do the looking because of the work done by earlier missions.J00013

As noted above one of the questions the mission hopes to answer is whether or not Jupiter has a solid core. The answer will tell scientists how Jupiter was formed. If the planet has a rocky core, then Jupiter is simply a large example of the debris accretion process which created Earth and the other rocky planets.

If on the other hand there is not a rocky core then Jupiter was formed out of some disturbance in the nebula in that region and is an example of a different process.

Why is this important? Science needs to take the next step in understanding the larger world we live in, that is the universe. There are physical processes at work which we have never encountered, or have observed but can’t explain. We don’t know what we don’t know.

The way forward for mankind is in exploration, in discovery in continuing to expand our understanding of the things around us.

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