Juno's journey to Jupiter

University of Leicester astronomers have been supporting Juno's mission while it travels to the distant gas giant

Juno’s trip to Jupiter has taken five years, using Earth’s gravity to propel it towards Jupiter by looping around the inner solar system and building up speed. In July 2016, Juno will fire its main engine and slip into orbit around the giant planet to begin its scientific mission.

Dr Jonathan Nichols from the Department of Physics and Astronomy is leading an on-going programme of observations that will image Jupiter’s auroras each day during Juno approach to the planet during May and June 2016. One of these videos will be online soon, showing the “main oval” auroral ring surrounding Jupiter’s northern magnetic pole, together with patchy dynamic auroras at higher polar latitude inside. A major data base of such auroral movies will be built up over the course of the mission in support of Juno auroral science objectives.

During the wait for Juno to arrive at Jupiter, the Leicester team has also been active as members of the magnetic field investigation on the Cassini (NASA) spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn since 2004. Our recent studies have focussed on the electric currents that flow between the upper atmosphere and the magnetosphere at Saturn, Jupiter’s modestly smaller neighbour, which also produce polar auroral displays, though generally rather weaker than those at Jupiter. The Leicester team will thus bring this wealth of recent relevant experience to the Juno mission.

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