Nation & World News

Jupiter Or Bust, But First A Quick Fly-By Of Home

By Joe Palca on October 9th, 2013

After traveling for more than two years and some 1 billion miles, NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter is back where it started. Almost. At 3:21 p.m. ET Wednesday, the Juno space probe will be 347 miles away from Earth, just above the southern tip of Africa.

(As an aside, at around 11:30 a.m. ET, it was more than 90,000 miles away.)

It’s not that Juno got homesick — the return to Earth was a necessity. To send it on a direct path to Jupiter would have required a more powerful rocket than the United Launch Alliance Atlas V-551. But that was the rocket that was available, so mission managers created a trajectory that uses Earth’s gravity as a kind of slingshot, adding the oomph needed to set the spacecraft on course to its destination.

The Messenger spacecraft took a similarly circuitous route to reach Mercury’s orbit, a journey that took nearly eight years. Check out this video of Messenger’s path.

So will Juno be visible to people on Earth? According to the website Heavens-Above.com:

“If you know where to look and live in the right part of the world, you will have a chance to see it through binoculars or a telescope. Lucky observers who live in the extreme south-west of Africa (e.g. Cape Town) could even see it with the naked eye just before it enters the Earth’s shadow.”

Juno’s primary mission is to measure the gravity and magnetic fields of the gas giant. The data should help scientists determine whether the planet has a solid core. It will be the first mission to fly low over Jupiter’s poles. Actually, Juno will fly just below the planet’s thin rings and just above the cloud tops.

But while it’s still nearby, ham radio operators around the world have been invited to try a little experiment. Using Morse code, hams will send the message “hi” at frequencies in the 10 meter amateur band. The message will be sent very, very slowly. Each dot in the dot-and-dash code is supposed to last 30 seconds, so it will take 10 minutes to send the word “hi” once.

Why this little experiment? Well, largely it’s to engage the public in a NASA mission. There is a scientific point, though. It will give Juno mission managers a chance to test out instruments designed to measure plasma and radio waves. A big goal of the Juno mission is to develop a better understanding of the auroras at Jupiter’s poles.

It will take nearly three years for Juno to reach Jupiter once it leaves Earth. The expected arrival date is July 4, 2016.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This entry was posted in News from NPR. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.

 

More Stories in News from NPR

Police arrest a man as they disperse a protest Wednesday for Michael Brown, who was killed by police Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo.

Obama Orders Review Of Transfers Of Military Surplus To Local Police

The White House says it will look at federal programs begun after Sept. 11, 2001, that have given local law enforcement military-grade weapons and equipment.


A black tip shark, caught on a fishing line, circles a boat just before it's devoured by a Goliath grouper.

WATCH: Shark Vs. Grouper. Shark Loses.

A couple of anglers fishing off the Fla. coast hook a four-foot Blacktip shark. And then …


Air Force Col. Steven Nagel joined NASA in 1978 and flew four space shuttle missions, logging more than 700 hours in space. He retired from the space agency in 2011. Nagel died of cancer on Thursday.

Veteran Space Shuttle Astronaut Steven Nagel Dies At 67

The Air Force colonel was among the first group selected by NASA to train for the space shuttle program. He went on to fly four missions, two as commander.


Iceland Ups Aviation Warning As Volcano Rumbles

Bardarbunga, a volcano in the center of the island nation, has experienced a sub-glacial eruption and could begin sending steam and ash skyward if it melts through the ice, scientists warn.


Members of Kurdish security forces take part during an intensive security deployment after clashes with militants of the Islamic State, in Jalawla, Diyala province, on Friday.

U.N. Warns Of ‘Possible Massacre’ In Northeastern Iraq

The United Nations special representative in Iraq describes the situation in Amerli, besieged by Islamic State militants, as one of “unspeakable suffering.”


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments