Jupiter, the fifth and largest planet in the solar system, is currently being studied by NASA’s Juno space probe. Juno, a reported $1.1 billion mission, was first launched in the summer of 2011. After nearly five years of traveling through space, it successfully began orbiting the gas giant in July of last year, according to CNN.
When Juno arrived at Jupiter, it became only the second probe to enter the gas giant’s orbit, with the first being the Galileo mission. Juno has been a success, and it has already gathered science and sent back fascinating photos, as the Inquisitr has previously reported. However, a couple of glitches have taken place, and NASA has had to make slight alterations to its plans for Juno.
— NASA’s Juno Mission (@NASAJuno) February 17, 2017
Back in October, the Inquisitr reported that NASA had delayed a scheduled “engine burn,” which was part of a plan called the “period reduction maneuver” (PRM). The PRM would have shortened Juno’s orbit around Jupiter from 53 days to 14 days. The decision to delay the PRM was made due to trouble with “two helium check valves.” At the time, NASA announced that it would again try to move Juno into shorter orbit on December 11.
When December came, however, the maneuver was delayed once more, according to Slate. Now, NASA has announced that it will call off the plan to shorten Juno’s orbit altogether, and it will remain in the 53-day orbit for the remainder of its time at the gas giant.
— Astronomy Magazine (@AstronomyMag) February 17, 2017
However, even though Juno will remain in the longer orbit, it may actually be a good thing, and NASA stresses that it will not have a detrimental impact on the “quality of science” that will be collected by the space probe. In a press release from NASA, Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington described how the decision to call off the engine burn was the correct and sensible move.
“Juno is healthy, its science instruments are fully operational, and the data and images we’ve received are nothing short of amazing,” Zurbuchen says in the press release. “The decision to forego the [engine] burn is the right thing to do — preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery.”
In the press release, Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton claims that keeping Juno in a longer orbit will be advantageous as it will limit its exposure to Jupiter’s “strong radiation belts.” According to NASA, the change of plans will also allow for “bonus science,” as Juno will be able to more thoroughly investigate Jupiter’s “magnetosphere.”
“Juno will further explore the far reaches of the Jovian magnetosphere – the region of space dominated by Jupiter’s magnetic field – including the far magnetotail, the southern magnetosphere, and the magnetospheric boundary region called the magnetopause.”
Per NASA, “understad[ing] the origin and evolution of Jupiter” is the main objective of the Juno mission. It is also believed that Jupiter may hold clues to the early formation of the solar system. According to NASA, other goals of Juno include, but are not limited to, finding out whether or not Jupiter has a “solid planetary core” and learning more about how large planets come into existence.
— Popular Science (@PopSci) February 19, 2017
Recently, there has also been more exciting news surrounding Europa, one of Jupiter’s four largest moons (there are more than 60 known Jovian satellites overall). Last week, the Inquisitr reported that NASA had received a report from a 21-member unit of the Science Definition Team (SDT), which detailed how a potential lander mission to the Jovian moon should look. Europa is believed to have a massive subsurface ocean, which is kept warm by Jupiter, and it is thought to be one of the best places to look for extraterrestrial life in the solar system.
According to NASA, data compiled from Juno’s early flybys continues to be studied. Juno has already completed a total of four orbits around Jupiter since its arrival last summer. Per NASA, “the current budget plan” covers the space probe through July of 2018, at which time it will have completed a total of 12 orbits.
[Featured Image by Nostalgia for Infinity/Shutterstock]