NASA’s Juno spacecraft loops into orbit around Jupiter

admin   •   July 5, 2016   •   2232

Tuesday, July 05, 2016 NASA's Juno spacecraft obtained this color view at a distance of 6.8 million miles (10.9 million kilometers) from Jupiter, on June 21, 2016. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Handout via Reuters

Tuesday, July 05, 2016
NASA’s Juno spacecraft obtained this color view at a distance of 6.8 million miles (10.9 million kilometers) from Jupiter, on June 21, 2016. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Handout via Reuters

NASA’s Juno spacecraft capped a five-year journey to Jupiter late Monday with a do-or-die engine burn to sling itself into orbit, setting the stage for a 20-month dance around the biggest planet in the solar system to learn how and where it formed.

“We’re there. We’re in orbit. We conquered Jupiter,” lead mission scientist Scott Bolton, with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, told reporters on Tuesday. “Now the fun begins.”

Juno will spend the next three months getting into position to begin studying what lies beneath Jupiter’s thick clouds and mapping the planet’s gargantuan magnetic fields.

Flying in egg-shaped orbits, each one lasting 14 days, Juno also will look for evidence that Jupiter has a dense inner core and measure how much water is in the atmosphere, a key yardstick for figuring out how far away from the sun the gas giant formed.

Jupiter’s origins, in turn, affected the development and position of the rest of the planets, including Earth and its fortuitous location conducive to the evolution of life.

“The question I’ve had my whole life that I’m hoping we get an answer to is ‘How’d we get here?’ That’s really pretty fundamental to me,” Bolton said.

Jupiter orbits five times farther from the sun than Earth, but it may have started out elsewhere and migrated, jostling its smaller sibling planets as it moved.

Jupiter’s immense gravity also diverts many asteroids and comets from potentially catastrophic collisions with Earth and the rest of the inner solar system.

Launched from Florida nearly five years ago, Juno needed to be precisely positioned, ignite its main engine at exactly the right time and keep it firing for 35 minutes to become only the second spacecraft to orbit Jupiter.

If anything had gone even slightly awry, Juno would have sailed helplessly past Jupiter, unable to complete a $1 billion mission.

The risky maneuver began as planned at 11:18 p.m. EDT as Juno soared through the vacuum of space at more than 160,000 mph (257,500 kph).

NASA expects Juno to be in position for its first close-up images of Jupiter on Aug. 27, the same day its science instruments are turned on for a test run.

Only one other spacecraft, Galileo, has ever circled Jupiter, which is itself orbited by 67 known moons. Bolton said Juno is likely to discover even more.

Seven other U.S. space probes have sailed past the gas giant on brief reconnaissance missions before heading elsewhere in the solar system.

The risks to the spacecraft are not over. Juno will fly in highly elliptical orbits that will pass within 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of the tops of Jupiter’s clouds and inside the planet’s powerful radiation belts.

Juno’s computers and sensitive science instruments are housed in a 400-pound (180-kg) titanium vault for protection. But during its 37 orbits around Jupiter, Juno will be exposed to the equivalent of 100 million dental X-rays, said Bill McAlpine, radiation control manager for the mission.

The spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, is expected to last for 20 months. On its final orbit, Juno will dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere, where it will be crushed and vaporized.

Like Galileo, which circled Jupiter for eight years before crashing into the planet in 2003, Juno’s demise is designed to prevent any hitchhiking microbes from Earth from inadvertently contaminating Jupiter’s ocean-bearing moon Europa, a target of future study for extraterrestrial life.

(Editing by Kim Coghill and Andrew Heavens)

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NASA’s Mars Helicopter makes historic first flight

Aileen Cerrudo   •   April 20, 2021

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) made history after the successful flight of its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter  on another planet.

According to NASA, its Ingenuity team at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California confirmed that the flight was a success after receiving data from the helicopter via NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover.

Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds.

JPL developed the guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms to pilot Ingenuity.

NASA associate administrator for Science, Thomas Zurbuchen announced that the team named the airfield, where the Ingenuity Helicopter traversed, as Wright Brothers Field as an homage to the two innovative bicycle makers.

“Now, 117 years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight on our planet, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has succeeded in performing this amazing feat on another world,” he said. AAC

 

Rare ‘great’ conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn visible from December 21 to 25 — PAGASA

Marje Pelayo   •   December 22, 2020

MANILA, Philippines —The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced on Monday (December 21) that the ‘great’ conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn has begun and will be visible from December 21 to 25, 2020.

According to the agency, a conjunction occurs when planets appear close to one another in the sky because they line up with Earth in their respective orbits. 

‘Great’ conjunctions are the rarest and one of the brightest and closest on the average of conjunction between naked eye planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.

This year’s conjunction will be historic since it will be the closest since 1623, the closest observable since 1226, and will not happen again until March 15, 2080.

DOST-PAGASA Astronomical Observation and Time Service Unit Chief Mario Raymundo, said in a statement that the conjunction can be seen on the Western horizon and will be visible to the naked eye.

Raymundo assured the public that the astronomical event has no adverse effect because the two planets are extremely distant from Earth. MNP / Raymund David

NASA’s new Mars rover launches from Florida to seek signs of past life

UNTV News   •   July 31, 2020

NASA’s next-generation Mars rover Perseverance blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Thursday (July 30) atop an Atlas 5 rocket on a $2.4 billion mission to search for traces of potential past life on Earth’s planetary neighbor.

The next-generation robotic rover – a car-sized six-wheeled scientific vehicle – also is scheduled to deploy a mini helicopter on Mars and test out equipment for future human missions to the fourth planet from the sun. It is expected to reach Mars next February.

It soared into the sky under clear, sunny and warm conditions carried by an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance. The launch took place after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California where its mission engineers were located was rattled by an earthquake.

This marked NASA’s ninth journey to the Martian surface.

Perseverance is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could bear evidence of potential past microbial life on Mars.

Scientists have long debated whether Mars – once a much more hospitable place than it is today – ever harbored life. Water is considered a key ingredient for life, and the Mars billions of years ago had lots of it on the surface before the planet became a harsh and desolate outpost.

One of the most complex maneuvers in Perseverance’s journey will be what mission engineers call the “seven minutes of terror,” when the robot endures extreme heat and speeds during its descent through the Martian atmosphere, deploying a set of supersonic parachutes before igniting mini rocket engines to gently touch down on the planet’s surface.

Aboard Perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter named Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars for the first time.

This was scheduled as the third launch from Earth to Mars during a busy month of July, following probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and China. The state from which the rover was launched, Florida, is currently one of the hot spots in the United States for the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters)

(Production: Kia Johnson)

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