Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Sunday, May 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Rain 48° Rain
News >  Nation/World

Jupiter journey: NASA spacecraft arrives at giant planet

Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, left, talks during a media briefing joined by Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator, second from left, Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager, second from right, and Heidi Becker, Juno radiation monitoring investigation lead, at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday, July 4, 2016. (Richard Vogel / Associated Press)
Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, left, talks during a media briefing joined by Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator, second from left, Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager, second from right, and Heidi Becker, Juno radiation monitoring investigation lead, at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday, July 4, 2016. (Richard Vogel / Associated Press)
By Alicia Chang Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif. – Braving intense radiation, a NASA spacecraft reached Jupiter on Monday after a five-year voyage to begin exploring the king of the planets.

Ground controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin erupted in applause when the solar-powered Juno spacecraft beamed home news that it was circling Jupiter’s poles.

The arrival at Jupiter was dramatic. As Juno approached its target, it fired its rocket engine to slow itself down and gently slipped into orbit. Because of the communication time lag between Jupiter and Earth, Juno was on autopilot when it executed the daring move.

“Juno, welcome to Jupiter,” said mission control commentator Jennifer Delavan of Lockheed Martin, which built Juno.

The spacecraft’s camera and other instruments were switched off for arrival, so there won’t be any pictures from the moment it reached its destination. Hours before the encounter, NASA released a series of images taken last week during the approach, showing Jupiter glowing yellow in the distance, circled by its four inner moons.

Scientists have promised close-up views of the planet when Juno skims the cloud tops during the 20-month, $1.1 billion mission.

The fifth rock from the sun and the heftiest planet in the solar system, Jupiter is what’s known as a gas giant – a ball of hydrogen and helium – unlike rocky Earth and Mars.

With its billowy clouds and colorful stripes, Jupiter is an extreme world that likely formed first, shortly after the sun. Unlocking its history may hold clues to understanding how Earth and the rest of the solar system developed.

Named after Jupiter’s cloud-piercing wife in Roman mythology, Juno is only the second mission designed to spend time at Jupiter.

Galileo, launched in 1989, circled Jupiter for nearly a decade, beaming back splendid views of the planet and its numerous moons. It uncovered signs of an ocean beneath the icy surface of the moon Europa, considered a top target in the search for life outside Earth.

Juno’s mission: To peer through Jupiter’s cloud-socked atmosphere and map the interior from a unique vantage point above the poles. Among the lingering questions: How much water exists? Is there a solid core? Why are Jupiter’s southern and northern lights the brightest in the solar system?

“What Juno’s about is looking beneath that surface,” Juno chief scientist Scott Bolton said before the arrival. “We’ve got to go down and look at what’s inside, see how it’s built, how deep these features go, learn about its real secrets.”

There’s also the mystery of its Great Red Spot. Recent observations by the Hubble Space Telescope revealed the centuries-old monster storm in Jupiter’s atmosphere is shrinking.

The trek to Jupiter, spanning nearly five years and 1.8 billion miles, took Juno on a tour of the inner solar system followed by a swing past Earth that catapulted it beyond the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Along the way, Juno became the first spacecraft to cruise that far out powered by the sun. A trio of massive solar wings sticks out from Juno like blades from a windmill, generating 500 watts of power to run its nine instruments.

In the coming days, Juno will turn its instruments back on, but the real work won’t begin until late August when the spacecraft swings in closer. Plans called for Juno to swoop within 3,000 miles of Jupiter’s clouds – closer than previous missions – to map the planet’s gravity and magnetic fields in order to learn about the interior makeup.

Juno meets its demise in 2018 when it deliberately dives into Jupiter’s atmosphere and disintegrates to prevent any chance of accidentally crashing into the planet’s potentially habitable moons.

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.



Asking the right questions of your CBD company

Bluegrass Hemp Oil in Spokane Valley offers a variety of products that can be very effective for helping with some health conditions. (Courtesy BHO)
Sponsored

If you are like most CBD (cannabidiol) curious consumers, you’ve heard CBD can help with many ailments.