Jupiter science

Image credit: NASA/Damian Peach, Amateur Astonomer
After two wide orbits and a clean-up manoeuvre, Juno will settle into a 14-day polar orbit to begin its scientific mission in November 2016, its perijoves (the closest approaches to the planet on each orbit) bringing the spacecraft closer to the Jovian cloud tops than any previous planetary explorer. These fortnightly orbits will continue through to February 2018, the foreseen end of the primary mission.

The mission, proposed by PI Dr Scott Bolton (now at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio Texas) and given the name Juno, has three main science objectives:

  • Study the interior structure of the planet using information obtained from the effect of the planet’s gravitational pull on the spacecraft motion, and from measurements of the magnetic field generated by dynamo action in the deep interior.
  • Study the properties of the atmosphere to depths well below the visible cloud-tops using microwave emissions that are able to penetrate these layers, in particular measuring the amount of oxygen (from water) in the otherwise hydrogen-dominated atmosphere, which will provide means to discriminate theoretical ideas on the formation of the planet.
  • Read about the atmospheric science research that University of Leicester planetary scientists will be conducting.

  • Study the origins of Jupiter’s dynamic polar auroras, formed by the coupling between the planet’s upper atmosphere and the extended plasma medium beyond, which are by far the brightest emissions of all the planets within the solar system.
  • Read about the magnetospheric and auroral science that our astronomers will be conducting.

The unique polar orbit chosen for Juno, with its very close periapsis above the equatorial cloud tops, inside of the dangerously intense radiation belts trapped by Jupiter’s magnetic field, is ideal for all of these science objectives. In particular it allows investigation of the figure of the planet and atmosphere at all longitudes as the planet rotates with a period of ~9.5 hours, as well as providing direct access to observations of the light emissions, particles, fields, and waves associated with the polar auroras.

Jupiter’s high-latitude environment has previously been investigated only on two brief fly-by encounters, by Pioneer-11 (NASA) in 1974 en route to Saturn, and by Ulysses (ESA) in 1992 en route to the poles of the Sun. The only previous Jupiter orbiter, Galileo (NASA), in orbit during 1995-2003, was confined to the planet’s equatorial plane. Galileo also suffered a major communications antenna malfunction which meant that the data return, though still significant, was much smaller than was planned

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