In August of 2011, NASA launched Jupiter Near-Polar Orbiter, commonly known as Juno, embarking on a five-year journey to Jupiter. Now, Juno is less than a month away from exploring beneath the gas giant’s stormy atmosphere. It’s expected that findings made by the craft will help determine or open the door to explanations on the planet’s origins, which date back to the infancy of our solar system.
On the 4th of July, Juno will begin a 35-minute burn of its main engine before entering Jupiter’s polar orbit. Over the course of 20 months, the payload will pass by Jupiter’s north and south poles 37 times, completing each orbit every 14 days. Juno will skim Jupiter’s atmosphere up to 3,100 miles above its cloud tops, rotating three times per minute to get a full view.
In that time, Juno will create a 3D map of Jupiter’s colossal magnetosphere (denoted by white lines, Fig. 2), which is 20,000 times stronger than that of the Earth and the cause of Jupiter’s intense radiation band. Juno will also create a detailed map of Jupiter’s gravitational field to finally determine Jupiter’s mass distribution and core makeup.
In addition, high-resolution spectral cameras paired with telescopes will capture images of Jupiter’s underlying clouds, while spectrometers and particle detectors will analyze the plasmas that generate Jupiter’s powerful auroras at its poles.