When a spacecraft crashes into the planet it’s studying it usually means that a mission is a disaster and billions of pounds/dollars/Euros (delete as applicable) and countless hours have been wasted (yes Beagle 2 we are looking at you). Not this time however as NASA’s recent launch the Juno space probe is specifically designed to slam into the biggest planet in the solar system, Jupiter.

The 3.5 tonne probe was launched earlier this month on a five year mission that will see it fly far out into our solar system before using Earth’s gravity to catapult itself out towards the gas giant Jupiter.

…magnetic field, which is 20,000 times stronger than our own…

Once Juno reaches Jupiter it will fire its thrusters causing it to spin maximizing the amount of exposure each of its scientific instruments gets to the planet’s gaseous upper atmosphere. The probe will also photograph and take measurements of Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, which is 20,000 times stronger than our own, in an attempt to understand what is producing such a powerful force.

Designed with a titanium protected sensor array Juno will map Jupiter’s gravitational field to see if under the layers of gas there lies a rocky core. To reduce the damage to the spacecrafts systems Juno will follow a highly elliptical orbit and will only pass close to the north and south poles long enough to take readings before heading out into space to avoid Jupiter’s high levels of damaging radiation.

…speeds close to 99,000 miles per hour…

Travelling at  Juno will make 33 orbits of Jupiter before the final stage of the mission which sees the $1bn satellite take a nose dive and plunge into the planet’s heart.

This suicide plunge is all part of the mission and is designed to prevent Juno from accidentally crashing into Jupiter’s moon Europa which is being earmarked for future missions to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life and NASA want to avoid contaminating the moon.   

The name Juno was chosen because of the mythical relationship between the gods Jupiter and Juno ( no not the indie flick with Ellen Page). Juno was the wife of Jupiter and was able to see through Jupiter’s clouds that he conjured to hide his naughty doings. Considering what the mission entails the name couldn’t be more fitting.

Images courtesy of NASA


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