NASA’s Juno spacecraft is scheduled to enter orbit around our solar system’s largest planet on the July 4th holiday. While the probe will be trying to avoid fireworks on Independence Day, it will instead be treated to an amazing view of Jupiter, a colorful globe of storms 300 times more massive than the Earth.
Named for Jupiter’s wife from Roman mythology, Juno will study the planet’s atmosphere, interior, and magnetosphere, to help unlock the mysteries of how the giant planet formed. Jupiter’s magnetosphere is 20,000 times stronger than Earth’s, generated by hydrogen in the planet’s depths that is under such an enormous amount of pressure that it acts like a liquid metal, making it electrically conductive. Juno began recording data from the magnetosphere two weeks ago, using it’s Waves sensor package, having crossed the boundary where Jupiter’s magnetic field blocks the solar wind, called the bow shock, on June 24.
Juno also carries a sensor package called the Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument, or JEDI, that will be used to study the particles that make up the enormous auroras that erupt around Jupiter’s polar regions. The probe’s mission is expected to last until 2018, after having rolled up 2.1 billion miles on it’s odometer.
Somewhat closer to home, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken high-powered images of the Apollo landing sites on the moon, answering the 47-year-old question of whether or not any of the six American flags planted there by the Apollo program’s astronauts were still flying. This question came about when Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that he saw that the flag he and Neil Armstrong had planted had been blown over by the exhaust from the ascent stage of the lunar module when they left the moon.
While the LRO’s images did confirm that the Apollo 11 flag appears to have been knocked down, they do show that the five flags from Apollo missions 12, 14 ,15, 16 and 17 are still standing, casting their characteristic shadows on their respective landing sites. So, one could truly say that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter gave proof through the night that our flag was still there!
Happy July Fourth, everyone!