In case you haven’t guessed, I am super excited about the Juno Mission. I’m looking forward to writing (and drawing) about it a lot over the coming years.
But for the moment, we’re sort of stuck in a holding pattern.
Juno successfully entered orbit of Jupiter on July 4, 2016; however, it will have to complete a second engine burn, scheduled for October 19, before the science mission really begins.
In the meantime, I thought I’d run through some of Juno’s equipment and some of the mission objectives I’m most excited about.
- Juno Cam: It’s a camera. It takes pretty pictures. Nothing to get too excited about, except Juno’s orbit takes it extremely close to Jupiter. We should be getting some stunning close-ups.
- JEDI and JADE: Juno has two instruments, named JEDI and JADE, which will detect ionized particles in Jupiter’s magnetosphere. JADE will focus on low-energy particles; JEDI will cover the high-energy stuff. As a science fiction writer, I’m looking forward to knowing precisely what sort of radiation dangers my characters will face near Jupiter specifically and gas giant planets in general.
- UVS and JIRAM: Juno can see in ultraviolet (using its UVS instrument) and infrared (using JIRAM). So yes, Juno can “see right through” Jupiter, or at least it can see through some of the topmost layers of clouds. Also, observations in UV and IR will help us identify the chemical composition of the clouds. Maybe we’ll finally find out what makes the Great Red Spot red.
- Gravity Science: By monitoring subtle variations in Jupiter’s gravity, Juno can determine how matter is distributed in the planet’s interior. There are a lot of hypothetical new states of matter that might exist in the interiors of gas giants (like metallic hydrogen); Juno’s gravity experiments could tell us if our hypotheses are correct.
Juno is scheduled to make a suicide dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere on February 20, 2018.
I’d hoped there might be a possibility for a mission extension. The Cassini mission got an extra nine years to study Saturn. But NASA doesn’t want to risk contaminating any of Jupiter’s moons (especially Europa).
So over the next two years, we better make the most of Juno while we still have her.
P.S.: JEDI stands for Jovian Energetic particle Detection Instrument. The Star Wars reference is surely a coincidence; it’s not like there are any nerds working at NASA.