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

NYPD Shuts Down Controversial Unit That Spied On Muslims

The New York Police Department’s Demographics Unit reportedly carried out systematic surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods to root out terrorist threats, but it never produced a single usable lead.


An Indian eunuch in the eastern city of Bhubaneswar dances Tuesday to celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling recognizing a third gender category.

In India, Landmark Ruling Recognizes Transgender Citizens

The country’s Supreme Court handed down a decision that acknowledges for the first time India’s large population of eunuchs and transvestites.


The disturbance visible at the outer edge of Saturn's A ring in this image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft results from gravitational effects on ring particles by an object that may be replaying the birth process of icy moons.

Saturn Might Have A New Baby Moon Named Peggy

The Cassini spacecraft spotted a disturbance in the sixth planet’s outermost main ring that is thought to be caused by a tiny moon.


Mailing your taxes in just before midnight: That's so 2002.

Think You Can Mail Your Taxes At Midnight? Think Again, Gramps

Back in the day — say, up until about a decade or so ago — the big news on April 15 was always about last-minute filers lining up at post offices as the clock ticked down. Now? It’s a different story.


UP, El Al's new budget carrier, has a catchy, and cheesy new safety video.

WATCH: Israel’s New Low-Cost Airline Has Catchy Safety Video

The safety message is described as a “sort of cross between a Ricky Martin video, mixed with Devo’s ‘Whip It’ and a heaping spoonful of Robert Palmer’s ‘Simply Irresistible.’ “


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
Underwriting Payments