“It’s unforgiving. It’s relentless. It’s spinning around so fast, its gravity is like a giant slingshot, slinging rocks, dust, electrons, whole comets—anything that gets close to it, becomes its weapon.”
That description is part of the narration on the new NASA trailer that is describing spacecraft Juno’s mission in getting data from our solar system’s largest planet.
NASA spacecraft, Juno, will arrive in Jupiter’s orbit on July 4 to study how it formed and evolved, the agency announced.
On June 16, Juno was still 18 days and 8.6 million miles away from Jupiter.
The solar-powered spacecraft the size of a basketball court will fire its engines on the evening on July 4 for 35 minutes as it places itself in the gas orbit of the solar system’s largest planet.
Once there, Juno will study the planet’s auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere, NASA said.
“At this time last year our New Horizons spacecraft was closing in for humanity’s first close views of Pluto,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“Now, Juno is poised to go closer to Jupiter than any spacecraft ever before to unlock the mysteries of what lies within,” said Brown.
The mission’s series of 37 scheduled approaches in a 20-month timeframe will break NASA’s Pioneer 11 spacecraft 1974 record by 27,000 miles.
But Juno will have a bumpy ride when it orbits Jupiter’s swirling tumult of orange, white, red and brown clouds that cover the gas giant.
“We are not looking for trouble, we are looking for data,” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
“Problem is, at Jupiter, looking for the kind of data Juno is looking for, you have to go in the kind of neighborhoods where you could find trouble pretty quick,” he added.
Under the Jovian cloud tops is a layer of hydrogen that acts as an electrical conductor under pressure. Scientists believe that the combination of metallic hydrogen and Jupiter’s fast rotation (one day on Jupiter is only 10 hours long) creates a powerful magnetic field that covers the planet with electrons, protons and ions traveling at nearly the speed of light.
NASA describes it as “the harshest radiation environment in the solar system.”
“Over the life of the mission, Juno will be exposed to the equivalent of over 100 million dental X-rays,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno’s project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“But, we are ready. We designed an orbit around Jupiter that minimizes exposure to Jupiter’s harsh radiation environment. This orbit allows us to survive long enough to obtain the tantalizing science data that we have traveled so far to get,” he added.
Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Fla.