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‘What Lurks Beneath The Clouds’: Here’s How NASA Plans To Use Juno To Find Out What’s In Jupiter

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter Monday after a five-year space flight and will soon begin conducting numerous scientific experiments.

NASA scientists said in a Tuesday “Ask Me Anything” on the website Reddit that they’re “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.”

The $1.1 billion Juno mission aims to learn more about Jupiter and how it influenced the development of the rest of the solar system. The spacecraft will use nine specialized instruments to see if Jupiter has a solid planetary core, map the planet’s intense magnetic fields, observe it’s auroras and measure the amount of water in the atmosphere.

“I am elated to congratulate the NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Juno Spacecraft Team on the successful completion of one of the most critical stages of the Juno mission – entering the orbit of Jupiter,” Republican Texas Rep. Brian Babin, who chairs the House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Space, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Juno is a solar-powered spacecraft that will map the interior so that scientists can understand more about the giant, fifth planet from the Sun. During the next 20 months, Juno will begin its assessments and then deorbit in 2018 into the atmosphere of Jupiter. This is another testament to the ingenuity and technical capabilities of the NASA, space industry team.”

Juno’s first goal is to improve understanding of the formation, development and structure of the planet. Beneath a dense cover of clouds, Jupiter, may have a solid core surrounded by a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen and helium. Some gravitational measurements suggest that this core could be 12 to 45 times more massive than Earth, accounting for three to 15 percent of the planet’s total mass.

Jupiter is 11.2 times wider than Earth and 300 times more massive. The gas giant is 2.5 times more massive than all other planets in the solar system combined. If Juno reveals new information about Jupiter’s core, it could totally change current theories about how the solar system formed.

Juno’s secondary scientific goal is to determine how Jupiter’s powerful magnetic fields developed and behave.

These incredibly power magnetic fields guide charged particles that crash into the polar ionospheres, forming enormous auroras. A similar process occurs on earth to form the northern and southern lights. Comparing Juno’s observations with information about the auroras of Saturn, Earth and other planets will allow scientists to better understand how they form and behave.

Earth has an extremely strong magnetic field for its size, but Jupiter’s weakest fields at the top of its clouds are 10 times stronger than that of the Earth.

Finally, Juno will attempt to answer questions about how much water is on Jupiter, which could help scientists learn about the origin of water on Earth.

Juno will make detailed measurements of microwave emissions as well as the structure of the gravitational and magnetic fields to help determined exactly how much of the gas giant is made up of water. Since Jupiter likely contains the majority of the water in the solar system, studying the gas giant could help scientists learn how water came to Earth.

The Juno spacecraft will study Jupiter from a highly elliptical orbit, which will cause the probe to skim the outermost atmosphere over the planet’s North Pole and rise back up over the South Pole. The highly elliptical orbit will also allow the probe to avoid most of the intense particle radiation surrounding the planet and while measuring Jupiter’s magnetosphere. These maneuvers are expected to last for roughly six hours and will repeat every 11 days.

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