Juno – Uncovering the Giant Planet’s Story

If you thought that the Aurora Borealis was one heck of a mesmerising site of nature, then wait till you see the auroras on Jupiter. Yes, there are Northern and Southern lights on Jupiter, too. The Hubble telescope observed and captured the auroras a few days ago. Unlike Earth’s, Jupiter’s auroras are constant and more brilliantly lit. The observation was “supported by measurements made by Juno” as it was set to enter the planet’s orbit. Like stars aligning to form a perfect match, Juno is in the perfect place to study how the sun affects the formation of auroras.

What is Juno?

No we are neither talking about the 2007 movie, nor are we talking about the Goddess (though yes she is the namesake). Juno is the spacecraft that NASA sent to gain a deeper understanding of the “origin and evolution of Jupiter”. It was launched on 5th Aug, 2011 and it arrived at Jupiter on 4th July, 2016 after five long years of travelling a total distance of 28,00,00,000 (that’s 2.8 billion folks) kms.

Gives a beautiful perspective to your daily drudgery from home to office, doesn’t it? The probe will make 37 orbits from pole to pole and because the planet is so huge that each flight path will be 14 days long. The closest that it will come to Jupiter’s mass of swirling gas and clouds will be 4,200 kms. Like its namesake, one of Juno’s goals is to ignore all the hubbub of gases around the gigantic planet and find out if it is all gas or has a rock solid core too?

It also aims to explore the answer to one of the important questions- whether there is water on the planet? It will also observe the auroras on both poles. No, Juno is not all about uncovering the mystery of the largest planet of our solar system. Understanding Jupiter means we gain that much more knowledge about planetary systems other than ours.

Going down in History

Remember that time when you got the first place in some insignificant contest and you were all gaga over it. Well here are some of the firsts of Juno, just to make you feel inadequate.

• First solar powered spacecraft to travel the maximum distance

• First craft to move from one pole to the other while orbiting an outer planet

• First to have titanium parts.

• The highest speed at which a spacecraft will enter the orbit of another planet.

• Geared to capture the highest resolution pictures possible of Jupiter.

• One of the fastest human made objects.

If this was not enough to interest you in the spacecraft, here is a titbit – besides all the heavily, titanium protected instruments that Juno contains, it also carries three LEGO mini-figurines made of aluminium, of Jupiter, Juno ( the Roman God and Goddess) and Galileo. Don’t believe me? Go check them out on NASA’s site. LEGO is not just for kids, after all.

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