JunoCam Shines at Halfway Point of Juno Mission to Jupiter

NASA’s Juno Mission to Jupiter reaches the midpoint of its mission and has far exceeded expectations. There’s also a lesson here for NASA: always include a camera in your space probes to planets!

2339 Views | Published on 19th Dec, 2018

Hello Space Fans and welcome to another edition of Space Fan News. In this episode: NASA’s Juno Mission to Jupiter reaches the midpoint of its mission and has far exceeded expectations. There’s also a lesson here for NASA: always, always always include a camera in your space probe, you’ll never know when that will come in handy, even if the science case doesn’t justify having one.

Coming up on December 21st, while we are all celebrating mid-winter on the northern hemisphere on the tiny planet Earth, Juno will be 5000 kilometers above the largest planet in our solar system smoking overhead at two hundred thousand kilometers per hour. That’s 128 hundred thousand miles per hour for those of us in the U.S. and U.K. who still think of speed that archaically.

I’ve told you many times what Juno was meant to do, but to remind you, it was sent to Jupiter to study its magnetic fields and get a better handle on what happens in the highest cloud layers. When it got there, some valves didn’t open right and out of an abundance of caution, the mission planners decided to keep Juno in a higher orbit than was originally wanted, but this had the upside of Juno being able to stay orbiting Juno longer because it wouldn’t be as baked by Jupiter’s radiation like it would be if it were closer.

Soooooo, with this longer mission, Juno’s been able to study things longer. It’s in a very highly elliptical 53-day orbit which means Christmas comes almost every two months or so for Juno scientists who get a trove of new measurements of the magnetic field of Jupiter along with some great radiometer readings, magnetometer readings, ultraviolet and infrared images and spectra, radio/plasma data and even catches some plasma and energetic particles.

All of these things in one scoop of an orbit every 53 days.

And oh yeah. It gets pictures like this from Junocam. Something NASA kinda put there because, you know, it would be nice.

So halfway through the mission, Juno has already re-written the textbook on Jupiter. We know a lot more about how the atmosphere works and we know tons more about the magnetic field of, which was one of the main reasons we went there.

Even at the higher orbit that originally planned, the main science goals of Juno are being met and as of now, astronomers will have covered the complete planet with measurements at least once. On December 21st, Juno will have completed it’s 16th orbit, half of the 32 science passes it’s expected to do in total.

Over the second half of the mission, science flybys 17 thru 32 will split the difference of the previous orbits and fly exactly halfway in between them. This will provide coverage of the planet every 11.25 degrees of longitude, providing a more detailed picture of what makes the whole of Jupiter tick.
Although it probably shouldn’t have been, the big surprise has been Junocam . The JunoCam imager was conceived as an outreach instrument to bring the excitement and beauty of Jupiter exploration to the public, it has become much more than that to the science team.

The time lapse images over the poles have allowed astronomers to study the dynamics of Jupiter’s unique circumpolar cyclones and to image high altitude hazes. They are also gaining some great insights into the Great Red Spot using Junocam.

So we are halfway through another exciting NASA mission to the planets and I know we can look forward to a lot more cool images, as well as scientific papers, to come out as the mission progresses. Carol Christian and I are working to setup to Astro Coffee hangouts with members of the Juno team so look for those in 2019.

Well that’s it for this episode Space Fans, SFN is sponsored by OPT Telescopes, a world leader in telescopes and accessories for both the amateur and professional astronomer. SFN is also made possible by Deep Astronomy Patreon Patrons who continue to make sure new videos get made each week.

Thanks to all of you for watching and as always, Keep Looking Up!