Last week, I was invited to talk about NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter on AOTR The Jen and Rick Show, an Internet radio show on K98Talk. The links to the show are found below.
AOTR Presents Jen and Rick Junos 5 Year trip to Jupiter and Hillary Skates
(First Aired on K98Talk, Tuesday, July 5, 2016)
In my preparation for the show, I realised that not many of my readers, or the listeners of the radio show, will necessary know why Jupiter is so important to astronomers and our understanding of our planet. As such, I've decided that I need put my PhD in Astronomy to good use and start a new blog series about Jupiter and what NASA is attempting to do with the Juno mission.
The outer planets have always held a level of mystic over astronomers and scientists. Here we have four gas giant planets, each of them with unknown structures. (Sorry, folks, this does not include Pluto. Besides, Pluto is not a planet anymore, but that will be the subject of a future post.) What is in the core of the planets? Why is there such diversity in the moons around these planets? Why is there a vast difference between the outer planets and the inner planets?
The only thing we know with any certainty is that the differences in our solar system is a result of what happened during the birth of our solar system. But here's the real issue. All our years of ground-based observations of Jupiter had led to assumptions that proved to be wrong by the Galileo mission during 1995 through 2003. We learned so much about Jupiter, but we also were left with more questions.
Jupiter is believe to be among the first of the planets formed in our solar system, with evidence that the cloud atmosphere has a similar composition to that found in the Sun. In fact, it is believed that if Jupiter had been 80 times bigger, it could have been a star too. But there are still too many things that we don't know about Jupiter. Is there any water in those cloud formations? Does Jupiter have a solid core? And what about the strong magnetic fields that surround the planet? It is these questions and others that Juno was sent to find the answers to.
Juno, named after the Roman goddess and wife of Jupiter, was launched on August 5, 2011. Nearly five years in space, and it successfully made insertion into Jupiter's orbit on July 4, 2016. As I write this post, Juno will be performing a series of start-up sequences, restarting the science instruments and running its systems through a series of calibration and operational tests. On August 27, 2016, Juno is expected to do another close pass of the planet, science instruments on and a preview of what we can expect of the future science orbits. It's an exciting, but nervous, wait.
The satellite itself is an instrument worth marveling about — its a system of firsts. Not only is Juno solar powered, the first solar-powered spacecraft to venture out so far from Earth, but it also has a number of components on-board that were 3D printed in Titanium, including the Titanium vault used for radiation shielding the science instruments. But one of the things that I mentioned during the radio show was its power consumption.
With all the instruments on-board, Juno was designed to operated on only 500W of power. You read that correctly, folk. Only 500W.(However, I may have said 5000W on the radio show, but still...) The average light bulb used for domestic purposes is a 50-60W bulb. Meaning that Juno uses the same power that it takes to light 10 bulbs. Many of us would struggle in a big way to power our homes on such low power consumption rates, yet NASA engineers and the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory succeeded to design a complex system that could do just that.
2001: A Space Odyssey actually set at Saturn
The famous movie 2001: A Space Odyssey depicted a story of a team on a mission to Jupiter to study a monolith orbiting the gas giant. Ironically, the book by Arthur C Clarke, written concurrently during filming of the movie and published shortly after the movie's release, had the monolith in orbit around Saturn. In a preamble to the book 2010: Odyssey Two, Arthur C Clarke commented about this confusion and explains why he shifted the story to around Jupiter for the sequels.
More information about the Juno mission to Jupiter can be found here.
(Featured Image Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)