Last weekend, NASA’s Juno probe successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit. The mission’s goal is to examine the origin and evolution of the planet, and Juno will use a suite of nine instruments to investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras.
Some of the Juno team members took to Reddit over the course of this week to give details about their mission, including Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager; Steve Levin, Juno project scientist; Jared Espley, Juno program scientist; Candy Hansen, JunoCam co-investigator; Elsa Jensen, JunoCam operations engineer; Leslie Lipkaman, JunoCam uplink operations; Glen Orton, NASA-JPL senior research scientist; Stephanie L. Smith, NASA-JPL social media lead; and Jason Townsend, NASA social media team.
We’ve rounded up a few of the highlights of their Reddit AMA below!
Why the name Juno?
How long will it take for Juno to make a full orbit?
We’ll start in a 53-day orbit and after we check things out we’ll be lowering the orbit to a 14-day orbit which will be our main science orbit.
How long will it take for the information from Juno to be sent back?
A minimum of 48 minutes since that is how long it takes for the data sent from Juno to travel to Earth into our large ground based antennas and receivers. When we slow communications down significantly like we did last night, the amount of data accumulated on the spacecraft builds up and it can then takes hours for all of the data to be transmitted to the team on Earth. We are re-establishing “high rate” communications via our large “high gain” antenna today and expect to have all of our data from orbit insertion downlinked and reviewed by tomorrow.
Will JunoCam’s images be released to the public soon?
The approach movie images will be released soon. Images from Orbit 1 will not be released immediately, because we’ll be doing lots of testing of the camera operations then, but from Orbit 2 and onward, our policy will be to release all images in a format that can be read immediately as soon as we get them and this initial processing step is done.
– Glenn Orton
How much time/planning goes into a mission such as this?
A huge amount of time and planning goes into a mission like this! I personally started thinking about the ideas that eventually became Juno in about the year 2000, after a conversation with Scott Bolton, who had already begun to contemplate the measurements we can do. Our first proposal to NASA was in 2004, and we began designing real hardware in 2006.
– Steve Levin
5+ years of development and building. 5 years of flying through interplanetary space from Earth to Jupiter (with a gravity slingshot along the way).
What other projects have TeamJuno worked on in this time?
For myself, I’ve definitely been working on other projects. My formal time, averaged through the year, is 30% of my total professional time. I’m also a co-investigator on Cassini, as well as the Outer Planet Atmospheric Legacy (OPAL) program imaging the outer solar system annually with Hubble Space Telescope, and my own ground-based programs for infrared spectroscopy and imaging of Saturn (for Cassini support) and Jupiter (for Juno support).
– Glenn Orton
Many of us work on more than one project. I have been working on the MAVEN mission for example.
I spend most of my time on Juno, but I also help out with the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope project for a few hours each week.
– Steve Levin
What’s the next major milestone for Juno? When will the first significant results be available?
We’ve already taken some data and images during approach and will take data as soon as instruments turn. The first close-in images/data will be after Aug. 27th.
What will we learn from this mission?
I’m most interested in finding out what lurks beneath Jupiter’s clouds. It’s mind-blowing to think that we don’t yet know what the interior is of the largest planet in the solar system. Is it rocky? Is it metallic? We just don’t know. But that’s exciting, and it’s why we explore.
I’m really excited about measuring the global water abundance! The amount of water in Jupiter should tell us a lot about how and where the planet formed. The leading theory right now involves large chunks of ice initially, possibly with the planet drifting inward after initially forming much farther from the Sun. The water abundance should teach us a lot about those formation theories.
– Steve Levin
What would be the most groundbreaking thing that Juno could find now that it’s reached Jupiter?
The standard answer would be the structure and composition of the interior of the planet. But in reality it would be something utterly unexpected.
What will we learn about the solar system as a whole?
Our understanding of how solar systems form is in some chaos (pun intended) due to all the exoplanets we’re finding. Understanding when and where Jupiter formed (e.g. by looking at the water abundances) will help us understand when and where Earth formed with respect to our Sun.
Will the mission tell us whether or not Jupiter has a core?
We’ll use a combination of gravity and magnetic data to disentangle all the different combinations of material that could make up the core (or not). Our web of orbits crossing the planet at different longitudes will be important to build up these interior maps.
Is there any way we can relate this mission to Star Trek?
We think Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has a subsurface ocean of liquid water; and because everywhere on Earth that we’ve found water, we’ve also found life, this is a good place for us to search. However, we don’t want to go looking for life in the universe only to find that we brought it with us from Earth. We have to abide by something called Planetary Protection. (It’s like the Prime Directive, but real.)
So, to keep Juno from ever running the risk of crashing into Europa and contaminating it, we will deorbit the spacecraft into Jupiter.
OK, what about Star Wars?
We haven’t used any fuel reserves (either last night or previously). Our previous TCM was canceled because we were so on target. The orbit achieved 53.5 days (no one at the table had more decimal places). For radiation monitoring we’ll use the data from many of the science instruments (e.g. effects on JunoCam, SRUs, ASC images and extrapolation from JEDI energy spectra).
(A JEDI is a Jupiter Energetic-particle Detector Instrument)
Is there any possibility that Juno will send back images from beneath Jupiter’s cloud cover before it disintegrates?
Images from under the clouds would be amazing. Whether or not the spacecraft could still transmit them is another matter. We might not have the right attitude during deorbit to do that.
Will we learn any more about Jupiter’s moons?
While the main goal of the mission is to study the planet’s origin and structure, we will take as many images of the moons as we can.
And finally, the most important question: Have you seen any large black objects yet?
No monoliths spotted on Jupiter or any of its moons, but I did see one in the possession of Bob Pappalardo, Europa Mission Project Scientist.
The next images from the JunoCam will be released on August 27th! In the meantime, you can read the full AMA here, and you can follow the evolving mission (and keep an eye out for monoliths) on the Juno mission’s Twitter and Facebook pages.