What Will Happen When Juno Enters Jupiter's Orbit? Its Mission Could Be A Game-Changer
July 4 is a big day, and not just for American independence celebrations. On the fourth of this month, Juno, which stands for Jupiter Near-Polar Orbiter, will enter into Jupiter's orbit. Juno is a solar-powered, unmanned spacecraft, which has traveled millions of miles since its launch in 2011. So what will happen when Juno enters Jupiter's orbit on Independence Day?
Juno's mission is to see what's beneath Jupiter's clouds, and in turn shed light on how the solar system came to exist as it does today. It is the second spacecraft ever to visit Jupiter and also stay long enough to orbit the planet. "What Juno’s going to do, because we're either braver or dumber, is come in between the planet and the radiation belts," Gary Levin, the Juno project scientist, told USA Today. According to Smithsonian Magazine, researchers believe that Jupiter holds many answers about the Earth's — and other planets' — formation. One of the mission's principal investigators, Scott Bolton, even called Jupiter "the recipe for solar systems."
So Juno's mission is to ultimately uncover some of the mysteries of our solar system, including how it came to be, but also Jupiter's role in its creation. Juno will also hopefully give some insight into Jupiter's makeup, such as whether its core is solid or if it is made up of gas, as well as what's behind the planet's gassy atmosphere.
Bolton explained to Smithsonian how "Jupiter is a planet on steroids. Everything about it is extreme." And the team has prepared for just that by armoring the Juno spacecraft with what is basically "a suit of armor…and a bulletproof vest."
Even though the spacecraft is protected and armored, Juno's project manager from NASA, Rick Nybakken, said in a statement, "Over the life of the mission, Juno will be exposed to the equivalent of over 100 million dental X-rays. ... This orbit allows us to survive long enough to obtain the tantalizing science data that we have traveled so far to get."
Even with its protective gear, it's possible that Juno won't survive the duration of its orbiting. According to Smithsonian Magazine, once Juno enters the planet's atmosphere, it runs the risk of burning up to the point of destruction.
Juno is expected to run a 53-day orbit over the course of the next few months and will have completed 32 orbits by the end of the mission. You can follow along with the mission's progress and scientific photographic insights with JunoCam.