Juno Spacecraft Nearing Jupiter Orbit on July 4th –“We’ll Have Polar Auroras & Great Red Spot in Our Windshield!”

 

 

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Over the past two weeks, several milestones occurred that were key to a successful 35-minute burn of its rocket motor, which will place the robotic explorer into a polar orbit around the gas giant. “We have over five years of spaceflight experience and only 10 days to Jupiter orbit insertion,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “It is a great feeling to put all the interplanetary space in the rearview mirror and have the biggest planet in the solar system in our windshield.”


On June 11, Juno began transmitting to and receiving data from Earth around the clock. This constant contact will keep the mission team informed on any developments with their spacecraft within tens of minutes of it occurring. On June 20, the protective cover that shields Juno’s main engine from micrometeorites and interstellar dust was opened, and the software program that will command the spacecraft through the all-important rocket burn was uplinked.

One of the important near-term events remaining on Juno’s pre-burn itinerary is the pressurization of its propulsion system on June 28. The following day, all instrumentation not geared toward the successful insertion of Juno into orbit around Jupiter on July 4 will be turned off.

“If it doesn’t help us get into orbit, it is shut down,” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “That is how critical this rocket burn is. And while we will not be getting images as we make our final approach to the planet, we have some interesting pictures of what Jupiter and its moons look like from five-plus million miles away.”

The mission optical camera, JunoCam, imaged Jupiter on June 21, 2016, at a distance of 6.8 million miles (10.9 million kilometers) from the gas giant. In the image, just to the right of center is Jupiter, with its distinctive swirling bands of orange, brown and white. To the left of Jupiter (from right to left) are the planet’s four largest moons — Europa, Io, Callisto and Ganymede. 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.

JunoCam is an outreach instrument — its inclusion in this mission of exploration was to allow the public to come along for the ride with Juno. JunoCam’s optics were designed to acquire high-resolution views of Jupiter’s poles while the spacecraft is flying much closer to the planet. Juno will be getting closer to the cloud tops of the planet than any mission before it, and the image resolution of the massive gas giant will be the best ever taken by a spacecraft.

All of Juno’s instruments, including JunoCam, are scheduled to be turned back on approximately two days after achieving orbit. JunoCam images are expected to be returned from the spacecraft for processing and release to the public starting in late August or early September.

“This image is the start of something great,” said Bolton. “In the future we will see Jupiter’s polar auroras from a new perspective. We will see details in rolling bands of orange and white clouds like never before, and even the Great Red Spot.

 

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Stunning new images and the highest-resolution maps to date of Jupiter at thermal infrared wavelengths shown above give a glowing view of Juno’s target, a week ahead of the NASA mission’s arrival at the giant planet. The maps reveal the present-day temperatures, composition and cloud coverage within Jupiter’s dynamic atmosphere, and show how giant storms, vortices and wave patterns shape the appearance of the giant planet. The observations will be presented on Monday 27 June at the National Astronomy Meeting in Nottingham by

The high-resolution maps and images were created from observations with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, using a newly-upgraded thermal imager called VISIR. The observations were taken between February and June 2016 to characterise Jupiter’s atmosphere ahead of Juno’s arrival.

“We used a technique called ‘lucky imaging’, whereby individual sharp frames are extracted from short movies of Jupiter to ‘freeze’ the turbulent motions of our own atmosphere, to create a stunning new image of Jupiter’s cloud layers,” explained Leigh Fletcher of the University of Leicester. “At this wavelength, Jupiter’s clouds appear in silhouette against the deep internal glows of the planet. Images of this quality will provide the global context for Juno’s close-up views of the planet at the same wavelength.”

Fletcher and his team have also used the TEXES spectrograph on NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) in Hawaii regularly to map Jupiter’s changing appearance. The team made observations at many different wavelengths, optimised for different features and cloud layers in Jupiter’s atmosphere, to create the first global spectral maps of Jupiter taken from Earth.

“These maps will help set the scene for what Juno will witness in the coming months. We have seen new weather phenomena that have been active on Jupiter throughout 2016.

These include a widening of one of the brown belts just north of the equator, which has spawned wave patterns throughout the northern hemisphere, both in the cloud layers and high above in the planet’s stratosphere,” said Dr Fletcher from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Observations at different wavelengths across the infrared spectrum allow us to piece together a three dimensional picture of how energy and material are transported upwards through the atmosphere.”

Both sets of observations were made as part of a campaign using several telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, as well as contributions from amateur astronomers around the world, to understand Jupiter’s climate ahead of Juno’s arrival. The ground-based campaign in support of Juno is led by Dr Glenn Orton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Once in orbit around Jupiter, Juno will skim just 5000 km above Jupiter’s clouds once a fortnight – too close to provide global coverage in a single image. The Earth-based observations supplement the suite of advanced instrumentation on the Juno spacecraft, filling in the gaps in Juno’s spectral coverage and providing the wider global and temporal context to Juno’s close-in observations.

“The combined efforts of an international team of amateur and professional astronomers have provided us with an incredibly rich dataset over the past eight months,” said Dr Orton. “Together with the new results from Juno, this dataset will allow researchers to characterise Jupiter’s global thermal structure, cloud cover and distribution of gaseous species. We can then hope to answer questions like what drives Jupiter’s atmospheric changes, and how the weather we see is connected to processes hidden deep within the planet.”

The Daily Galaxy via NASA and ESO

 

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