NASA's Juno mission reaches furthest point in its first orbit around Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission reaches furthest point in its first orbit around Jupiter

On Sunday, NASA's Juno mission arrived at the furthest point in its first orbit around Jupiter, a site called ‘apojove’. Now for the coming 27 days, the solar-powered robotic mission is going to be at the mercy of the gas giant’s bulky gravity, attracting it to within 2,600 miles of its thick, cloudy atmosphere. It is going to be Juno's point of nearest approach, known as ‘perijove’.

On July 4, Juno reached Jupiter, after the completion of a perfect 35-minute rocket engine burn to decrease its speed sufficiently to be captured by the gravity of the planet. It was a finale of five years of journeying since launch on August 5, 2011 across the inner solar system.

In a statement, Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton, at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said, “For five years we've been focused on getting to Jupiter. Now we're there, and we're concentrating on beginning dozens of flybys of Jupiter to get the science we're after”.

The science instruments of Juno were powered down at the time of its dramatic orbital insertion, but the mission is going to be wide awake during the arrival of the spacecraft at perijove on August 27.

Juno project manager Rick Nybakken, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. added that they are presently in an excellent position, as the spacecraft and all the instruments have been checked properly and are all set for their first up-close look at the gas giant.

At present, Juno is on its first of two 53.4-day orbits. The orbits called ‘capture orbits’, are very elongated (or eccentric) by nature. On completing capture orbits, Juno will one more time fire up its engines to decrease its speed again to complete its orbital dance with Jupiter, cutting its orbit to only 14 days. The shorter orbits are going to enable the beginning of the Juno's science mission.

According to a report in Space by Mike Wall, "Then, Jupiter's powerful gravity will pull Juno back in, and the spacecraft will begin zooming toward an Aug. 27 close approach that will take it within just 2,600 miles (4,200 km) of the planet's cloud tops."

"We're in an excellent state of health, with the spacecraft and all the instruments fully checked out and ready for our first up-close look at Jupiter," Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

"For five years, we've been focused on getting to Jupiter. Now we're there, and we're concentrating on beginning dozens of flybys of Jupiter to get the science we're after," Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in the same statement.

A report published in Nature World News revealed, "This is the first major data gathering step for Juno where it is expected to beam back tons of information by studying the planet up close, in a distance that no spacecraft has ever gone before. "We're in an excellent state of health, with the spacecraft and all the instruments fully checked out and ready for our first up-close look at Jupiter," Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager said in a statement."

Juno will have to finish two long orbits before it reaches the nearest point to the planet that will also mark the official start of its science mission. Before the mission could start, Juno has to finish the first lap around Jupiter that will finish with the spacecraft's closest pass over the planet.

The mission will look into the composition, methane content, magnetic field, atmospheric circulation and other elements and chemistry found in Jupiter. Data from Juno will help scientists understand the formation and evolution of the planet as well as the solar system being one of the oldest bodies within the planetary system.


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