NASA has numerous ongoing space missions, but scientists are waiting to see what the Juno probe uncovers below Jupiter's mysterious clouds.
As we reported earlier, NASA recently just carried out one of the first of two controlled fuel burns to make sure that the Juno space probe was on the right course for Jupiter. The solar-powered probe currently appears to be on track to reach the massive gas giant planet by July 4 this year, and another burn scheduled for May 31 will all but ensure that the probe reaches its destination.
So why is NASA sending a probe to Jupiter? The $1.1 billion probe was launched in August, 2011, and scientists have been chomping at the bit to see the first pieces of data the probe sends home when it reaches Jupiter.
There are many theories about the origin of Jupiter, and how it has influenced the growth and evolution of the solar system. Roughly 5 billion years ago, a star in the Milky Way exploded. The resulting massive cloud of gas and dust began to compress inward on itself, forming a super-hot solid core that we know today as the sun. The rest of the material was scattered throughout the solar system, and researchers believe the first and the biggest planet was Jupiter.
Jupiter is covered in a thick, cloudy atmosphere, and scientists believe that learning more about the planet could lend key insights into how the Earth formed, and even how life developed from the primordial soup of the solar system’s early days.
Jupiter plays a number of important roles in our solar system, so understanding it is essential. The gas giant can block the inner-orbit planets, most notably Earth, from asteroids, and its massive gravity keeps countless other potentially dangerous objects from straying too far out of orbit.
The Juno mission will seek to map out the planet’s gravitational and magnetic fields, which could reveal untold secrets about the solar system’s biggest body. By understanding more about Jupiter and how it formed, researchers may gain crucial insight into the story of our own solar system, and how life eventually developed here on Earth.
A press release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory describing the recent fuel burns on Juno’s Jupiter mission can be found here.