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HomeScience & TechnologyNASA's Juno spacecraft's mission has lasted longer than anticipated

NASA’s Juno spacecraft’s mission has lasted longer than anticipated

Juno’s unprecedented views of Jupiter and its moons are a present that retains on giving.

The NASA spacecraft was initially slated to finish its mission in 2018 after finishing 34 orbits of the enormous planet. It’s now on orbit 47. How lengthy scientists will get this front-row view of those worlds isn’t clear, notably because the spacecraft zooms ever nearer to the fuel big and the highly effective, harmful radiation of its magnetosphere.

However Juno is hard, mentioned house physicist Scott Bolton, principal investigator for the Juno mission, at a December 14 information convention in Chicago on the American Geophysical Union’s fall assembly. The spacecraft “is constructed like an armored tank, and its shields are holding,” mentioned Bolton, of the Southwest Analysis Institute, which has headquarters in San Antonio.  

After getting into a large orbit round Jupiter in 2016, Juno’s pictures shortly started to assist scientists peer into the planet’s mysteries, together with a geometric array of cyclones around its poles and the strange, convoluted shape of its magnetic field (SN: 3/7/18; SN: 9/5/18). Juno spied lightning storms zipping across the tops of the planet’s clouds, and revealed that Jupiter is the one planet aside from Earth identified to host ephemeral, lightning-generated atmospheric glows generally known as sprites and elves (SN: 8/5/20; SN: 11/2/20).

Juno has additionally handed by a few of the planet’s moons, flying by Ganymede in 2021. Ganymede “is bathed by Jupiter’s magnetic area,” and Juno was capable of observe, amongst different issues, a tug of conflict of magnetic area traces between the planet and its moon, mentioned house physicist Thomas Greathouse, additionally of the Southwest Analysis Institute.

In September, Juno flew by Jupiter’s moon Europa, capturing in new element the chaotic crisscrosses of cracks, ridges and bands within the moon’s icy floor. Now the spacecraft is on its means towards Io, the innermost moon.

Whereas Juno appears to be going robust, “the tip may are available in two other ways,” Bolton mentioned. Juno may develop into too degraded by the extreme radiation to perform — or it may merely run out of propellant, which is required to maintain its antennas pointed towards Earth. If that occurs, “it may very well be amassing knowledge, however can’t ship it again.”

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