News / Science & Technology

    NASA's Juno to Study Jupiter's Recipe

    NASA's Juno spacecraft passes in front of Jupiter in this artist's depiction
    NASA's Juno spacecraft passes in front of Jupiter in this artist's depiction

    NASA will launch a spacecraft toward Jupiter next month with the goal of learning more about the massive planet and, in doing so, learn more about the way our own planet was formed.  The Juno mission is set to liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center on August 5.

    As far as planets go, Jupiter is impressive in terms of scale and age. 

    "Jupiter probably formed first," Scott Bolton, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas, explained. "It's the largest of all the planets.  In fact, it's got more material in it than all the rest of the solar system combined.  If I took everything in the solar system, it could all fit inside Jupiter.  And, in fact, Jupiter is probably more than twice as massive as the rest of the solar system put together."

    Those points alone could make researchers want to send a spacecraft beyond Mars and the asteroid belt to the fifth planet from the sun.  But there is an even more compelling reason.  

    Bolton says that after the Sun formed, Jupiter got what he calls "the majority of the leftovers."

    "We want to know that ingredient list.  What we're really after is discovering the recipe for making planets, and we're back at the first step of making sure we have all the ingredients in that recipe," said the scientist.

    So NASA is sending the Juno spacecraft to Jupiter to suss out those ingredients and to answer some key questions about the way Jupiter - and the solar system - evolved.  

    Bolton is the principal investigator in the $1.1 billion Juno mission.  The goal is to study Jupiter's magnetic and gravity fields, as well as the composition of the planet's core and its atmosphere.  

    Like any cook following a recipe can tell you, it is important to know how much water goes into the mix. "We want to know how much water is inside Jupiter, which represents how much oxygen.  Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe and in the Sun, so it's a big missing piece if we don't understand it," said Bolton.    

    He told reporters at a mission preview briefing Wednesday that water is a varying factor in many theories about the way planets formed.  He said by knowing the amount of water in Jupiter's planetary recipe, scientists can rule out some existing theories of planetary evolution.

    Technicians lower NASA's Juno spacecraft onto a fueling stand at Astrotech's Hazardous Processing Facility in Titusville, Florida, June 27, 2011
    Technicians lower NASA's Juno spacecraft onto a fueling stand at Astrotech's Hazardous Processing Facility in Titusville, Florida, June 27, 2011

    Bolton says Juno is energy efficient and it pushes the boundaries of solar power.  The spacecraft will be further from the Sun than any solar-powered mission before it.  There is 25-times less sunlight near Jupiter than there is here on Earth.  Once it is near Jupiter in 2016, Juno will be generating about 400 watts of power, which is not enough to run a hairdryer.    

    To make the most of the Sun, Juno has three giant solar rays.  The craft will essentially cartwheel through space for five years, until it is about 5,000 kilometers above Jupiter's cloud tops.  Bolton says Juno will dip down below the planet's radiation belts, which he says are among the most hazardous spots in the solar system.  

    The craft's electronics will be inside a vault to protect them. "We're basically an armored tank going to Jupiter," said the scientist.

    The Italian Space Agency, as well as partners in Belgium, France and Denmark, contributed components to the Juno craft and instruments.  

    Juno is set to orbit Jupiter for one year, starting in July 2016.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    This forum has been closed.
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora