The Juno Mission, Unlocking the Secrets of Jupiter

Happy 4th of July 2016! On top of it being the United States’s birthday, the NASA spacecraft Juno will reach orbit around Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.  This is a very perilous journey for Juno, which was launched from Earth on 5 August 2011.

Juno_approaching_Jupiter                                                     Artist’s conception of Juno approaching Jupiter (

Jupiter spins so fast that its gravity creates a slingshot effect, where anything getting near this gas giant flies away as projectiles. This includes rocks, comets electrons and dust; anything that gets near Jupiter becomes its defensive weapon. If a particle as small as a grain of sand hits Juno that right way, it could mean the end of the mission.

Another danger is the amount of radiation Jupiter generates. The amount of radiation we experience on Earth is about 0.39 of a RAD. Juno will experience over the course of its mission about 2,000,000 RAD (! The term RAD stands for radiation absorbed dose and is essentially a way of measuring the absorption of radiation by a specific material (which can include but not be limited to biological tissues).

PIA14172                One of the three solar panel sails used to power Juno through the solar system (

Juno will be the closest we have ever been to Jupiter; within 3,000 miles of the cloudtops of this gas giant, well within the radiation belt (this specific task within the mission is called the Jupiter Orbit Insertion). The goal is to get into the belt, collect the data needed and get out as quickly as possible. The data to be collected, underneath the cloudtops, should provide information on what our early solar system was like, particularly from a chemical point of view.

Jupiter_cloudtops  One of the four Galilean moons, Io, over the cloudtops of Jupiter.

Hopefully the insect philosophers on the fourth moon of Jupiter will leave Juno alone to collect its data. Next time we will wrap up our discussion on Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear.” Thank you – Fred.

Insectphil                                                                                   Will the Insect Philosophers leave the spacecraft Juno alone? Artwork by Michael Bukowski ( 



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