Following NASA's Juno Probe: The Road To Jupiter
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Following NASA's Juno Probe: The Road To Jupiter

Soon to bring a trip of five years to a stunning close.

Following NASA's Juno Probe: The Road To Jupiter

Humanity's knowledge of our solar system has increased exponentially since we first began to guess at what exists beyond our planet. From the first theories of planets orbiting Earth to the belief that the Sun was a flaming chariot crossing the heavens, our viewpoint has undergone extreme change over millennia of study. That knowledge is set to change yet again over this summer.

Our current foray into the stellar neighborhood centers around the Juno spacecraft launched by NASA Aug. 5, 2011. To reach Jupiter, the spacecraft must utilize extremely detailed methods of transfer. The craft underwent its final maneuver on Feb. 3, 2016, putting it on the trajectory necessary to reach an orbit around Jupiter.

This maneuver only changed the speed of the craft by one foot per second (less than one mph) but was successful in its outcome. The craft is set to arrive at the largest planet in our solar system on July 4, 2016.

To save fuel on its trip to Jupiter, Juno utilized a gravity assist from Earth to increase velocity without burning any propellant. Gravity assists work by using the orbital velocity of a planet to slingshot the spacecraft to a higher speed.

This seems like a paradox, as you would think any velocity gained falling towards the planet would be lost as the craft travels away. However, the reality is that a gravity assist works as a perfectly elastic transfer of energy, with the craft gaining the same amount of energy as the planet loses.

Since kinetic energy is based on an object's mass and velocity, the craft gets a huge boost in speed, while the comparatively massive planet barely registers a change.

We can relate this concept to everyday life by considering the spacecraft as a tennis ball, and the planet as a truck. The slingshot in the gravity assist is the same concept as the collision between the tennis ball and the truck.


How is this applicable to our own lives? Sure, knowing more about Jupiter might not change the fact you still have to take all your finals—and it won't suddenly revolutionize science as a whole—but everything depends on how you chose to look at it.

Sometimes it's hard to truly take in the scope of what we're accomplishing with this mission. We've successfully launched a probe larger than a school bus millions of miles into space, a culmination of years of work combined with years of anxiously biding our time. If that isn't enough, we'll be getting data on one of the most mysterious bodies in our solar system.

Jupiter is a force to be reckoned with as the largest planet in the solar system, with the stats to back it up. To start off, Jupiter is over 300 times more massive than Earth, with a size so enormous, its famous storm, the Great Red Spot, is able to comfortably fit our entire planet twice.

However, Jupiter is also a quarter as dense as Earth, since it is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium. Also, despite its massive size, the entire planet rotates on its axis in just nine hours. All of this combines to form an object that, while still technically part of our stellar family, feels intensely alien.

There are countless questions we have yet to answer about the largest member of our solar system, ranging from gaining insight into how Jupiter was formed to finally uncovering the secrets contained beneath that thick veil of clouds. It also happens to be the case, more often than not, that the discoveries we make by looking away from ourselves, usually come right back to teach us something previously unknown about our own home planet.

It could be said that come July 4th, there might only be a small number of people watching their computers, hunting for information through our tenuous connection to Jupiter. However, I'd be willing to take money on that not being the case.

We're a species built on curiosity. Some might say all it ever did was kill the cat, but last time I checked we aren't cats, so feel free to join in with all of us and give yourself another reason to celebrate our independence day.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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