NASA’s hot Juno Jupiter mission

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The big mission

NASA’s Juno spacecraft, once described as a flying armored tank, has almost reached its destination: Jupiter. Once arriving July 4 the spacecraft will spend a year surveying Jupiter to find out, among other things whether there is a solid core beneath its multi-colored clouds, how much water is in its atmosphere and map Jupiter's magnetic and gravity fields. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter holds secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation, NASA said.

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Round and round

After a five-year flight, Juno will arrive at Jupiter and circle the planet on a path that passes over the poles. Because polar orbits are best for mapping and monitoring a planet, many satellites that study Earth follow a similar path. Until now, this type of orbit has not been tried at Jupiter, so Juno will be the first to get a detailed look at the planet’s poles, NASA said. Juno will take 14 days to complete each orbit. Mission planners designed the flight plan so that the spacecraft passes over a different section of Jupiter during each orbit. After completing its 33 planned science orbits, Juno will have covered the entire planet, NASA stated.

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Get close

According to NASA, in order to make the most accurate measurements of Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields, Juno has to get very close to the planet. Thus, on each orbit, Juno comes within 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) of Jupiter’s cloud tops.

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Antenna happy

Juno will use its Microwave Radiometer (MWR) instrument to probe Jupiter's deep atmosphere, revealing new insights about its structure and composition. MWR consists of six antennas designed to passively sense the microwaves coming from six levels within the clouds. The deepest will reveal Jupiter’s water content, which is key to understanding how Jupiter formed. MWR will also allow us to determine how deeply atmospheric features extend into the planet, including the cloud bands and the Great Red Spot, NASA said. The largest of Juno's six MWR antennas (shown here) takes up a full side of the spacecraft, NASA said.

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The Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument (JEDI) will measure energetic particles that stream through space around Jupiter, studying how they interact with Jupiter’s magnetic field. These electrically charged particles -- consisting of electrons and ions -- follow the influence of the magnetic field. Many of them are channeled by the field toward Jupiter’s poles, where they crash into the atmosphere and create brilliant auroras, NASA said.

The waves

Juno’s Waves instrument will measure radio and plasma waves in Jupiter’s magnetosphere, helping us understand the interactions between the magnetic field, the atmosphere and the magnetosphere.

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Nice view

This artist's rendering shows Juno above Jupiter's north pole, with the auroras glowing brightly. Jupiter's magnetic field surrounds the planet. A radio wave from the auroras is shown traveling past the spacecraft, where it is intercepted by the Waves investigation, whose sensors are highlighted in bright green.

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An armored tank

When it comes to ensuring that the Juno spacecraft can survive its mission, NASA is surrounded the spacecraft's electronic innards with titanium to ward off radiation. Juno's  so-called radiation vault weighs about 200 kilograms (500 pounds), has walls that measure about a square meter (nearly 9 square feet) in area, are about 1 centimeter (a third of an inch) in thickness, and weigh 18 kilograms (40 pounds). About the size of an SUV's trunk - the vault encloses Juno's command and data handling box, power and data distribution unit and about 20 other electronic assemblies, according to NASA. During the 15 months Juno orbits Jupiter, the spacecraft will have to withstand the equivalent of more than 100 million dental X-rays, NASA said. Without its protective shield, or radiation vault, Juno's brain would get fried on the very first pass near Jupiter, NASA said.

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According to NASA Jupiter has sizzling radiation belts surrounding its equatorial region that extend out past one of its moons, Europa, about 650,000 kilometers (400,000 miles).

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Moon perspective

Three of Jupiter's largest moons are seen moving across the banded face of Jupiter in these images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope taken January 24, 2015. Jupiter's four largest moons can commonly be seen transiting the face of the giant planet and casting shadows onto its cloud tops. However, seeing three moons transiting the face of Jupiter at the same time is rare, occurring only once or twice a decade, according to NASA.

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Moon’s up

Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter and the largest moon in the solar system, is seen in a global geologic map. Published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the map technically illustrates the varied geologic character of Ganymede's surface, and is the first complete global geologic map of an icy outer moon.

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A crescent moon (R) is seen with the planet Jupiter in the sky over Amman.

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Below lies the secret

This Cassini image shows Jupiter from an unusual perspective. If you were to float just beneath the giant planet and look directly up, you would be greeted with this striking sight: red, bronze and white bands encircling a hazy south pole. The multicolored concentric layers are broken in places by prominent weather systems such as Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, visible towards the upper left, chaotic patches of cloud and pale white dots. Many of these lighter patches contain lightning-filled thunderstorms. (From the European Space Agency)

A Juno overview video

Juno will see Jupiter for what it really is, but first it must pass the trial of orbit insertion.

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Solar power rules

During its flight to Jupiter, Juno broke the record of the most distant solar-powered emissary. The milestone occurred at 11 a.m. PST (2 p.m. EST, 19:00 UTC) on Wednesday, Jan. 13, when Juno was about 493 million miles (793 million kilometers) from the sun. The previous record-holder was the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft, whose orbit peaked out at the 492-million-mile (792-million-kilometer) mark in October 2012, during its approach to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Prior to Juno, eight spacecraft have navigated the cold, harsh underlit realities of deep space as far out as Jupiter. All used nuclear power sources to get their job done, NASA said.

A piece of the Sun

Why Jupiter and the Sun are similar.

Public camera

The chief viewing instrument known as JunoCam is unlike most spacecraft cameras, NASA said because JunoCam was specially designed to work on a spinning spacecraft. Typically, spacecraft must point very precisely at their subjects while taking a picture to avoid smearing their images. Since Juno rotates twice per minute, the Juno team designed a camera that images several lines of pixels at a time, at the right speed to cancel out the rotation. It is also meant for amateur astronomers to utilize. Find out more here.

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Another “close-up”

Juno obtained this color view on June 21, 2016, at a distance of 6.8 million miles (10.9 million kilometers) from Jupiter. Juno will arrive at Jupiter on July 4.

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Illustrated fact box on NASA's Juno

The mission to Jupiter in key details.

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Reuters/Ho New

The beginning

An Atlas V rocket launches with the Juno spacecraft payload from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, August 5, 2011. The Juno spacecraft will make a five-year, 400-million-mile voyage to Jupiter, orbit the planet, investigate its origin and evolution with eight instruments to probe its internal structure and gravity field, measure water and ammonia in its atmosphere, map its powerful magnetic field and observe its intense auroras.

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Reuters/Ho New

Calm before the excitement

An Atlas V rocket with NASA's Juno spacecraft payload is seen the evening before it's launch.

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This still image from a Juno mission animation shows the spacecraft soon after launch as it separates from its Centaur upper rocket stage. The Juno spacecraft is in its stowed-for-launch configuration here, with its three large solar arrays folded against its sides.

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I see you

Juno's name comes from Greek and Roman mythology. The mythical god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife – the goddess Juno – was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter's true nature.