Three of Jupiter’s largest branches – Io, Europa and Ganymede – will be visited by NASA’s Juno probe currently in Jupiter’s system after its upcoming “death dive” was postponed for four years .
It was reported last week that Juno saw an asteroid or comet slam into Jupiter and parted into the atmosphere.
Previously planned to fall into Jupiter’s clouds after completing its 35th and final orbit on July 30, 2021, Juno’s extended mission will see him accomplish close flybys of all three branches through 2025.
In orbit of Jupiter from July 4, 2016, the spacecraft is 66 x 15 ft. Just finished the 32nd perijove (close flyby) of the vast planet and returned a stack of amazing new photos.
Juno’s extended mission sees him go around Jupiter 42 more times, when he meets close flybys of the northern polar cyclones of Jupiter, Ganymede, Europa and Io.
He will also make a first extensive study of the narrow rings surrounding Jupiter. Photographed by Voyager 1 in 1979 and with the Galileo orbiter in the 1990s, Jovian’s ring system largely dusts from two of its smallest branches, Amalthea and Thebe.
“Since its first orbit in 2016, Juno has unveiled one after another about the operation of this giant gas giant,” said chief investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San. Antonio. “With the extended mission, we will answer fundamental questions that arose during Juno’s main mission as we arrived outside the planet to study the Jupiter ring system and Galilean satellites. ”
As part of NASA’s New Frontiers program of medium-sized planetary science spacecraft, Juno is a landmark mission that now moves from a mission with a focus on studying the gravity and magnetic fields of the vast planet to a full-fledged system explorer .
Here’s what Juno is going to do and when at his extended mission stage:
- Flyby of Ganymede within 600 miles / 1,000 km – June 7, 2021.
- Flyby of Europa within 200 miles / 320 km – September 29, 2022.
- Flybys of Io within 900 miles / 1,500 km – December 30, 2023 and February 3, 2024.
- End of mission – September 2025.
“The mission’s designers have done an incredible job creating an expanded mission that retains the single most valuable resource on board – fuel,” said Ed Hirst, Juno’s project manager at JPL. “Gravity helps multiple satellite flybys navigate our spacecraft through the Jovian system while offering a wealth of science opportunities.”
However, Juno will only escape death for so long.
Come in September 2025 – with nowhere near enough fuel to overcome Jupiter’s gravity so continue a journey through the cosmos – its orbit will decay rapidly until it enters an atmosphere high Jupiter, heating up and burning.
A “death drop” like this is needed because an off-course Juno could theoretically fall into one of Jupiter’s moors and pollute the environment with microbes from Earth.
These branches are exactly what Juno’s extended mission is designed to explore.
The data Juno gathers through his extended mission will also help NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) plan the next two (and possibly three) missions to Jupiter and its branches:
China has also been talking about two missions to the Jovian system – Jupiter Callisto Orbiter (JCO) and Jupiter System Observer (JSO), one of which could launch in 2030 and arrive in 2036.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.