Tag Archives: Juno

First science results from Juno

Storms at Jupiter's pole

The Juno science team today released the mission’s first science results gathered during its first close fly-by of Jupiter.

I have cropped on the right one of their full images to focus in on two of the strangely shaped storms Juno imaged during its pass. This image is of the northern pole. They also have some fascinating images of the south pole storms as well. Unlike the equatorial regions, which on gas giants have what appear to be parallel coherent bands of weather, the poles appear very chaotic, with the storms forming shapes that have not been seen in any other atmosphere in the solar system. They also found a hexagon-shaped weather feature in the pole.

The first link above also included data from the spacecraft’s other instruments, showing the gas giant’s complex atmosphere in a variety of other wavelengths.

Juno’s closest Jupiter fly-by

Jupiter by Juno

Juno today successfully completed its first and closest fly-by of Jupiter during its primary mission, zipping only 2,600 miles above the gas giant’s cloud tops.

We are getting some intriguing early data returns as we speak,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “It will take days for all the science data collected during the flyby to be downlinked and even more to begin to comprehend what Juno and Jupiter are trying to tell us.”

While results from the spacecraft’s suite of instruments will be released down the road, a handful of images from Juno’s visible light imager — JunoCam — are expected to be released the next couple of weeks. Those images will include the highest-resolution views of the Jovian atmosphere and the first glimpse of Jupiter’s north and south poles. “We are in an orbit nobody has ever been in before, and these images give us a whole new perspective on this gas-giant world,” said Bolton.

The image to the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, was taken today when the spacecraft was still 437,000 miles away.

Juno swings back towards Jupiter

Juno has now passed the farther point from Jupiter in its first orbit and has started dropping back down to the gas giant.

Juno arrived at Jupiter on July 4, firing its main rocket engine as planned for 35 minutes. The flawless maneuver allowed Jupiter’s gravity to capture the solar powered spacecraft into the first of two 53.4-day-long orbits, referred to as capture orbits. Following the capture orbits, Juno will fire its engine once more to shorten its orbital period to 14 days and begin its science mission.

But before that happens, on Aug. 27, Juno must finish its first lap around Jupiter, with a finish line that represents the mission’s closest pass over the gas giant. During the encounter, Juno will skim past Jupiter at a mere 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) above the cloud tops.

Great Red Spot hottest spot on Jupiter

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a giant storm that has been raging for at least three centuries, turns out to be the hottest spot on Jupiter.

They suspect that the spot is heated from below, but really understand much else, or even that.

Juno is specifically designed to study the weather patterns of Jupiter, so we will get some of these answers, plus a lot more questions, in the coming years as the spacecraft gathers its data.

The first Juno picture of Jupiter from orbit

Juno's first picture in orbit

The Juno science team have released the first image since the spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter. I have posted a cropped version on the right, showing only the moon Io. The full image shows Europa and Ganymede as well.

The image was taken from almost 3 million miles away, which accounts for its fuzziness. Expect much better pictures when the spacecraft dips down close in late August.

Juno has entered Jupiter’s magnetic field

After five years of travel, Juno last Friday entered Jupiter’s gigantic and very powerful magnetic field in its approach for its July 4 orbital insertion.

Meanwhile, they have uploaded to the spacecraft its final software commands for that orbital insertion.

At about 12:15 pm PDT today (3:15 p.m. EDT), mission controllers will transmit command product “ji4040” into deep space, to transition the solar-powered Juno spacecraft into autopilot. It will take nearly 48 minutes for the signal to cover the 534-million-mile (860-million-kilometer) distance between the Deep Space Network Antenna in Goldstone, California, to the Juno spacecraft. While sequence ji4040 is only one of four command products sent up to the spacecraft that day, it holds a special place in the hearts of the Juno mission team. “Ji4040 contains the command that starts the Jupiter Orbit insertion sequence,” said Ed Hirst, mission manager of Juno from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “As soon as it initiates — which should be in less than a second — Juno will send us data that the command sequence has started.”

Hubble images Jupiter and its aurora

Jupiter and its aurora

Cool image time! In anticipation of the arrival of Juno in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, scientists have released a spectacular image of Jupiter and its aurora, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The image on the right has been reduced slightly to fit on the webpage.

The main focus of the imaging is the aurora.

To highlight changes in the auroras, Hubble is observing Jupiter almost daily for several months. Using this series of far-ultraviolet images from Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, it is possible for scientists to create videos that demonstrate the movement of the vivid auroras, which cover areas bigger than the Earth.

Not only are the auroras huge in size, they are also hundreds of times more energetic than auroras on Earth. And, unlike those on Earth, they never cease. While on Earth the most intense auroras are caused by solar storms — when charged particles rain down on the upper atmosphere, excite gases, and cause them to glow red, green, and purple — Jupiter has an additional source for its auroras.

The strong magnetic field of the gas giant grabs charged particles from its surroundings. This includes not only the charged particles within the solar wind, but also the particles thrown into space by its orbiting moon Io, known for its numerous and large volcanos.

I have embedded below the fold one of the videos of the aurora, taken over time by Hubble. Quite amazing.
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Juno closing in on Jupiter

Jupiter from Juno

On Friday the Juno science team released a new image of Jupiter taken by the spacecraft from about 6.8 million miles away.

The reduced resolution image on the right is cropped but with the colors enhanced to bring out the four Galilean moons, Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io. The website notes that “Juno is approaching over Jupiter’s north pole, affording the spacecraft a unique perspective on the Jovian system. Previous missions that imaged Jupiter on approach saw the system from much lower latitudes, closer to the planet’s equator.”

Rendezvous and orbital insertion happens on July 4.

Juno becomes most distant solar-powered mission

Scheduled to enter orbit around Jupiter in July 2016, the American space probe Juno has now broken the record as the most distant solar-powered interplanetary spacecraft ever to operate.

The previous record had been held by Rosetta. In the past most missions beyond Mars used nuclear-generated power plants, since the amount of sunlight is insufficient. However, improvements to the efficiency of solar power, combined with a lack of nuclear fuel in the U.S., has made it possible to fly missions using solar power farther from the sun.

Juno flight plan at Jupiter revised

In preparation for its arrival in orbit around Jupiter in about a year, engineers for the unmanned probe Juno have revised their planned orbital maneuvers.

Following a detailed analysis by the Juno team, NASA recently approved changes to the mission’s flight plan at Jupiter. Instead of taking 11 days to orbit the planet, Juno will now complete one revolution every 14 days. The difference in orbit period will be accomplished by having Juno execute a slightly shorter engine burn than originally planned.

The revised cadence will allow Juno to build maps of the planet’s magnetic and gravity fields in a way that will provide a global look at the planet earlier in the mission than the original plan. Over successive orbits, Juno will build a virtual web around Jupiter, making its gravity and magnetic field maps as it passes over different longitudes from north to south. The original plan would have required 15 orbits to map these forces globally, with 15 more orbits filling in gaps to make the map complete. In the revised plan, Juno will get very basic mapping coverage in just eight orbits. A new level of detail will be added with each successive doubling of the number, at 16 and 32 orbits.

The change will extend the official mission from 15 to 20 months, though I expect that even this will be extended if the spacecraft’s fuel holds out.

ALMA captures the rotation of the large asteroid Juno

The large ground-based telescope ALMA has captured a series of images of the large asteroid Juno, allowing scientists to estimate its rotation and overall shape.

Linked together into a brief animation, these high-resolution images show the asteroid rotating through space as it shines in millimeter-wavelength light. “In contrast to optical telescopes, which capture the reflected light from the Sun, the new ALMA images show the actual millimeter-wavelength light emitted by the asteroid,” said Todd Hunter, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Va.

…The complete ALMA observation, which includes 10 separate images, documents about 60 percent of one rotation of the asteroid. It was conducted over the course of four hours on 19 October 2014 when Juno was approximately 295 million kilometers from Earth. In these images, the asteroid’s axis of rotation is tilted away from the Earth, revealing its southern hemisphere most prominently.

Two days after its flyby of Earth, Jupiter probe Juno remains in safe mode.

Two days after its flyby of Earth, Jupiter probe Juno remains in safe mode.

The Juno spacecraft is in a healthy and stable state, with its tractor-trailer-size solar panels pointed toward the sun. The mission team is in communication with Juno and has seen no sign of any failures in the probe’s subsystems or components, said project manager Rick Nybakken of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. So Juno’s handlers plan to take their time and do a thorough investigation before attempting to bring all of the spacecraft’s systems back online.

In other words, there is no rush to take the spacecraft out of safe mode. It is far better to figure out exactly what is going on first.

Engineers hope Juno’s Earth flyby yesterday will help solve a mystery seen in previous flybys by unmanned probes.

The uncertainty of science: Engineers hope Juno’s Earth flyby yesterday will help solve a mystery seen in previous flybys by unmanned probes.

Since 1990, mission controllers at ESA and NASA have noticed that their spacecraft sometimes experience a strange variation in the amount of orbital energy they pick up from Earth during flybys, a technique routinely used to fling satellites deep into our Solar System. The unexplained variation is noticed as a tiny difference in the expected speed gained (or lost) during the passage.

The variations are extremely small: NASA’s Jupiter probe ended up just 3.9 mm/s faster than expected when it swung past Earth in December 1990. The largest variation– a boost of 13.0 mm/s – was seen with NASA’s NEAR asteroid craft in January 1998. Conversely, the differences during swingbys of NASA’s Cassini in 1999 and Messenger in 2005 were so small that they could not be confirmed.

The experts are stumped.

It is likely that these small variations are related in some way with simple engineering and not some unknown feature of gravity. Nonetheless, it remains a mystery.

After the unmanned probe Juno zipped past the Earth on its way to Jupiter today, it unexpectedly went into safe mode.

After the unmanned probe Juno zipped past the Earth on its way to Jupiter today, it unexpectedly went into safe mode.

Engineers continued to diagnose the issue, which occurred after Juno whipped around Earth in a momentum-gathering flyby. Up until Wednesday, Juno had been in excellent health. While in safe mode, it can communicate with ground controllers, but its activities are limited.

It is unclear at the moment why this happened.

After postponing Juno’s second midcourse correction burn, engineers have now successfully completed that burn.

After postponing Juno’s second midcourse correction burn last month, engineers have now successfully completed that burn.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft successfully executed a second Deep Space Maneuver, called DSM-2 last Friday, Sept. 14. The 30 minute firing of its main engine refined the Jupiter-bound spacecraft’s trajectory, setting the stage for a gravity assist from a flyby of Earth on Oct 9, 2013. Juno will arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

Juno looks back and sees the Earth and the Moon

Earth and Moon

Juno, on its way to Jupiter, took a look back and snapped this picture of the Earth/Moon double planet.

The image was taken by the spacecraft’s camera, JunoCam, on Aug. 26 when the spacecraft was about 6 million miles (9.66 million kilometers) away.

Gives us a glimpse at what our home planet will really look like to future spacefarers, either on they way out or on their way home.