Other photos beamed back to Earth from NASA’s Juno spacecraft show the beauty of the giant planet Jupiter and its small, lava-encrusted moon Io.
As the solar-powered spacecraft completed its 47th close pass (perijove) from Jupiter on December 14, it attempted to send its science data back to NASA, but the downlink was interrupted.
After an initial return of just one image – of its volcanic moon Io – the rest of the raw data from Io and Jupiter appeared online on January 4. Since then, a team of image processors – all dedicated volunteer “citizen scientists” – have released a bunch of spectacular finished images online.
The delay was caused by a radiation-intensive part of Jupiter’s magnetosphere, according to NASA. Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory restarted its on-board computer and put the spacecraft into safe mode.
Juno’s images of I0, the most volcanic body in the solar system, were captured while Juno was 40,000 miles away. The moon is believed to have an underground ocean of magma. Just before Juno approached Io, an explosion of volcanic activity began.
Io is in a constant gravitational tussle with Jupiter and the other large moons, so much so that it changes shape during its 42-hour orbit. The constant stretching and squeezing is thought to cause “tidal heating” through friction.
This flyby of Io was Juno’s first of nine over the next few years, two of which were just 930 miles/1,500 kilometers away.
“The team is really excited that Juno’s expanded mission includes studying Jupiter’s moons. With each close flyby, we were able to gain a wealth of new information,” said Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “The Juno sensors are designed to study Jupiter, but we were excited to see how well they can serve double duty observing Jupiter’s moons.”
Juno was launched in 2011 and arrived at Jupiter in 2016. Since then it has made 47 close flybys of the planet’s polar regions, the last being on December 15, 2022. It included the first of nine flybys of Io, the body the most volcanic in the solar system. -two of them only 930 miles/1,500 kilometers.
Its two very close flybys will take place on December 30, 2023 and February 3, 2024. During these, Juno will study the volcanoes of Io and how volcanic eruptions interact with Jupiter’s powerful magnetosphere and aurora borealis.
The spacecraft is in a highly elliptical orbit that only sees it close in on Jupiter’s moons and the planet’s polar regions once every five or six weeks, which is when it turns on its device. two-megapixel photo.
Juno’s mission is to study the composition, magnetic field and magnetosphere of Jupiter, to measure the water present in its atmosphere and its winds. He discovered how Jupiter’s atmosphere works and revealed the complexity and asymmetry of its magnetic field.
Juno also revealed the size of Jupiter’s “Great Red Spot”, which spans 350 kilometers. The largest storm in the solar system is located 22º south of Jupiter’s equator and has been raging since at least the year 1830. Its diameter makes it almost twice the size of Earth.
The spacecraft also studied Jupiter’s “Great Blue Spot,” an isolated area of intense magnetic field near the planet’s equator.
In October 2021, new discoveries from Juno provided the first 3D glimpse of how the giant planet’s “beautiful and violent atmosphere” works beneath the upper cloud layers.
It has also performed close flybys of Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede and, in total, has returned more than three terabits of scientific data so far.
However, the spacecraft is now on an exciting extended mission. After completing its default five-year study of Jupiter at 37 strong orbits in November 2021, Juno was given a new lease of life to 2025.
Although it may get a new expansion, if not the 76th and final spaceship perijove will take place on September 15, 2025 when it performs a “death dive” into the gas giant. This will prevent it from accidentally crashing into one of Jupiter’s moons and possibly contaminating it.
Juno is the ninth spacecraft to image Jupiter, the others being Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, Galileo Orbiter and Galileo Probe, Ulysses and Cassini.
The next close flyby of Jupiter by Juno, perijove 48, will take place on January 22, 2023.
I wish you clear skies and big eyes.