The enigma of exploring the unknown.
At 10:13am on July 5, 2016, NASA’s Jupiter-bound space probe Juno finally entered the giant planet’s orbit, with a year-and-half long plan to study the secrets that Jupiter holds. The incident set off a series of celebrations, marking an important day in mankind’s quest to understand the solar system better. Before getting to work, though, the probe took a while to reflect on its very unique status. “I’m the farthest solar-powered spacecraft from Earth”, tweeted NASA’s Juno Mission, summing up the result and toil of the five-year journey wonderfully.
The first and previous probe sent to Jupiter was Galileo, launched from Earth back in 1989. The probe reached Jupiter in 1995, and of the 460 gigabytes of crucial data it sent back, some of the highlights were the fierce atmospheric and planetary composition of the gaseous giant, along with closer insights into Jupiter’s massive moons. Ganymede, Europa and Callisto were deemed to possibly contain saltwater oceans beneath the crusts, after the close study of the magnetic field impact and aurorae of the biggest moons in our solar system. The probe also witnessed the crash of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s crash into Jupiter’s surface, and was subsequently crashed into the planet’s surface to protect the moons from being infected by terrestrial bacteria.
Moving back to the present day, Juno’s precise entry into Jupiter’s orbit is now being followed up with final tests of its subsystems and scientific calibration and data collection. Juno is scheduled to investigate the origins and evolution of the giant planet, investigate its core, the impact and interaction of its magnetic field with its satellites, solar wind and other galactic objects, observe and evaluate the planet’s aurorae, and measure the amount of water and ammonia in the planetary constituency. Juno’s mission is expected to be pivotal in our understanding of the solar system, its origins and history, and the next year-and-half can be crucial to much information that we have fathomed till date.
That, incidentally, also happens to be the objective of New Horizons, the spacecraft that gave us our first glimpse of Pluto, its surface, moons and atmosphere, demystifying much of what we had known till date. After successfully accomplishing its mission, New Horizons would have otherwise been drawn out of operation within this year, but has now received NASA’s approval to proceed beyond Pluto to MU69. The object has been termed as a time warp for the earliest days of our solar system, and could prove yet more useful in gauging our origin. The object orbits the sun about one billion miles beyond Pluto, and is one of the many mysterious Kuiper’s Belt Objects that NASA have spotted with immense promise.
This week has been particularly pivotal in the history of space exploration, with our space probes setting out on individually important ventures. For now, we wait as the probes begin sending back startling data and imagery from the fringes of the solar system.
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