Sat, Jul 09, 2016 - Page 9 News List

NASA’s Juno spacecraft poised for ‘tantalizing’ data on Jupiter

Scientists say the mission could provide a gateway to unlock clues about the early formation of the solar system

By Kenneth Chang  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

On Monday night, NASA scientists released a video of images taken by Juno as it approached Jupiter, showing the dance of the planet’s four large moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Even these early photographs hint at scientific mysteries.

Callisto, for instance, is unexpectedly dim.

“We don’t know why,” Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton said during a news conference after Juno’s arrival. “We’ll have to figure it out.”

With a different vantage on a polar orbit, the spacecraft’s cameras are likely to add to the number of Jupiter’s known moons, now 67.

“Juno is really searching for some hints about our beginnings, how everything started,” Bolton said. “But these secrets are pretty well guarded by Jupiter.”

The assault of radiation each time Juno zooms past Jupiter will take its toll on the electronics. As the mission progresses, the spacecraft is to pass through increasingly violent parts of the radiation belts.

On Feb. 20, 2018, during the 37th orbit, Juno is to make a suicidal dive into Jupiter, ending the mission the same way that Galileo, NASA’s previous Jupiter orbiter, was disposed of in 2003.

That will ensure that there is no possibility of Juno’s crashing into Europa and contaminating it with microbial hitchhikers from Earth.

The moon is regarded as one of the likelier places for life elsewhere in the solar system.

The Juno mission so far is the latest in a string of successes for NASA, including the flyby of Pluto a year ago by the New Horizons spacecraft and the landing of the car-size Curiosity rover on Mars in 2012.

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