This morning at 11:24 a.m. EDT an Atlas V will launch NASA’s Juno spacecraft on a five year voyage to the gas giant Jupiter to learn more about its magnetic fields. SpaceRef’s Randy Attwood was on the CBC to explain the mission.
Jupiter’s Magnetic Field
When it comes to magnetic fields, Jupiter is the ultimate muscle car. It’s endowed with the biggest, brawniest field of any planet in the solar system, powered by a monster engine under the hood.
Figuring out how this mighty engine, or dynamo, works is one goal of NASA’s Juno mission. Juno will orbit the planet for about a year, investigating its origin and evolution with eight instruments to probe its internal structure and gravity field, measure water and ammonia in its atmosphere, map its powerful magnetic field and observe its intense auroras.
“Valuable information about Jupiter’s magnetic field was gathered by the Pioneer 10 and 11 missions in the early 1970s and Voyagers 1 and 2 in the late ’70s,” says NASA Goddard’s Jack Connerney, Juno’s deputy principal investigator and head of the magnetometer team. Connerney is collaborating with the mission’s principal investigator, Scott Bolton, at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “But previous spacecraft orbited among Jupiter’s moons; Juno, a polar orbiter, will be the first magnetic mapping mission to Jupiter.”
“Mapping Jupiter’s magnetic field is one of the very few ways available to learn about Jupiter’s deep internal structure,” says Juno’s project scientist, Steven Levin of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which manages the Juno mission. That’s because Jupiter’s atmosphere is compressed so much by its powerful gravity field that it becomes impenetrable to most sensing techniques.
“In addition,” Levin says, “Jupiter may be the best place in the solar system to study how planetary magnetic fields are generated.”
Watch the CBC interview with Randy Attwood, Managing Editor, Space Quarterly magazine, as he explains the mission.
Update: The launch of Juno was a success. Watch the launch.