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NASA’s Juno probe is just a week away from historic Jupiter visit

We saw some amazing shots after the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012, delivering panoramas, detailed composite shots and much more Martian goodness.

Last year saw NASA‘s New Horizons space probe fly past Pluto, delivering and continuing to deliver photos in unprecedented detail.

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The space agency isn’t stopping there with the discoveries though, as its next big event will take place at Jupiter on 4 July. Yep, NASA’s Juno probe is just five days away from visiting the gas giant in what will be the closest orbit yet.

How close though? Well, it’ll be flying roughly 5000km above Jupiter’s clouds at its closest approach.

In fact, Juno has already sent a cool (albeit fuzzy) snap of the Jovian system, depicting Ganymede, Callisto, Io, Europa and Jupiter (from left to right) from over 10-million km away.

The picture was taken by JunoCam, which is the sole camera on the probe.

Jupiter is an unforgiving planet though, owing to massive amounts of radiation, so the camera system is designed to only last for the first seven orbits around the gas giant.

“After the required, seven orbit design life, JunoCam will continue to operate as long as possible in the harsh Jovian radiation environment,” JunoCam’s designers said.

Photography isn’t the probe’s main objective though, as Juno will primarily be collecting data via its array of instruments. Some of these tools include gravity science instruments, a magnetometer, a microwave radiometer and an auroral mapper.

The people’s camera?

In a rather interesting turn of events, the public will vote on regions for JunoCam to snap, via a dedicated platform. NASA is encouraging amateur astronomers to upload their own Jupiter shots to assist in the search for regions.

Pictures taken from the camera will be uploaded in RAW format to the platform, where the community will process the shots. Expect the first orbiting photos to be sent back to Earth in late August or early September, NASA said on their mission website.

“JunoCam will capture high-resolution colour views of Jupiter’s bands, but that’s only part of the story,” said Diane Brown, Juno programme executive, on the website.

“We’ll also be treated to the first-ever views of Jupiter’s north and south poles, which have never been imaged before.”

Surviving the harsh environment

Although many probes possess radiation shielding, NASA has an even harder challenge, because Jupiter’s radiation and magnetic field is brutal.

NASA said that over the life of its mission, Juno will be exposed to the equivalent of over 100 million dental X-rays. So one way to take precautions is to give the probe an elliptical orbit around the gas giant.

The other solution is to use radiation-shielded wiring and heavy shielding around its instruments. In fact, NASA uses a titanium “vault” weighing 172 kilograms (400 pounds), around the flight computer and other tools.

The combination of orbit and shielding means that Juno won’t accumulate radiation at a fast pace – but it won’t last forever either.

“Over the course of the mission, the highest-energy electrons will penetrate the vault, creating a spray of secondary photons and particles,” said Heidi Becker, Juno’s Radiation Monitoring Investigation lead, on the NASA website.

“The constant bombardment will break the atomic bonds in Juno’s electronics.”

Featured image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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