Like the love story that always seemed to elude their Ancient Greek namesakes, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has finally crossed 1.8 billion miles of space and arrived at Jupiter. The first man-made object to ever get this close to the planet, NASA is hoping that Juno will be able to tell us more about Jupiter’s atmosphere, and what’s underneath those enigmatic clouds. After its mission, NASA will plunge Juno to its death, hurtling towards Jupiter’s surface, in order to avoid having a defunct space craft cluttering the gas giant’s as-of-now pristine orbit.
Earlier today, I joined a Reddit discussion with the scientists behind the project.
Mike: Does Jupiter’s massive gravitational pull make it more difficult to keep a probe in orbit?
NASA: Actually, Jupiters massive gravitational pull helps to keep our probe in orbit. When we fired our main engine last night, we were moving at 54.1 km/sec. After firing our main engine, we were moving away from Jupiter at 53.7 km/sec. That’s still really fast! But that really small decrease in orbital speed was enough to put us into a 53 day orbit (instead of a Jupiter flyby). Jupiter’s pull is so strong, it would be very challenging now to get out of orbit. This wasn’t what I initially expected when the navigators explained to me but it does help demonstrate how different things are when you are around such a massive planet. Rick
Mike: Do you expect to be able to collect much information about Jupiter’s moons? Or will Juno be too far away from them to learn anything that we don’t already know?
NASA: Mostly we will be too far from the moons to get really new discovery-class data, but we will observe Io to look for changes due to the volcanoes, and we will take pictures of Europa and Ganymede. CJH
Participants in this Reddit AMA included: Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager; Steve Levin, Juno project scientist; Jared Espley, Juno program scientist; Candy Hansen, JunoCam co-investigator; Elsa Jensen, JunoCam operations engineer; Leslie Lipkaman, JunoCam uplink operations; Glen Orton, NASA-JPL senior research scientist ; Stephanie L. Smith, NASA-JPL social media lead; Jason Townsend, NASA social media team
Unfortunately, I only managed to get two questions answered this time, but some other Reddit users asked really good questions, which you an read here.
Main image credit: NASA