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Rare view of Earth and Moon

Juno spacecraft image of Earth and Moon

Earth and Moon, as seen by the Juno spacecraft from a distance of around 10 million kilometres

LOOKING HOMEWARD in its long journey to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft offered up this rare view of our home planet with its moon. The spacecraft was nearly 10 million kilometres from Earth when it took this photo on August 26, 2011.

From that distance, oceans, land, clouds, and ice blend into a blur of light, a mere dot against the vastness of space. Even fainter and smaller, the Moon provides an additional sense of scale—the Earth and Moon are about 402,000 kilometres apart. (Juno travelled the Earth–Moon distance in less than a day.)

The spacecraft launched on August 5, and will reach Jupiter, another 2,800 million kilometres away, in about five years. The mission team took the photo as part of the first detailed check of the spacecraft’s instruments and subsystems.

“This is a remarkable sight people get to see all too rarely,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a NASA release.

“This view of our planet shows how Earth looks from the outside, illustrating a special perspective of our role and place in the universe. We see a humbling yet beautiful view of ourselves.”

Adapted from information issued by NASA/JPL-Caltech and Holli Riebeek / NASA Earth Observatory.

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10 things to know about Juno

HAVING BEGUN ITS FIVE-YEAR JOURNEY to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has a long road ahead of it before it can get to work studying the largest planet in the Solar System. The demanding mission will involve a long cruise phase, a hazardous operation phase, and a kamikaze ending.

Here are 10 interesting and fascinating facts about the Juno spacecraft and its target planet.

  • Total flight distance to Jupiter is 2,800 million kilometres. If you could hop in your car and drive non-stop at 100 kilometres per hour, it would take you 3,196 years to cover that distance. Juno will do it in just 5 years!
  • One it reaches Jupiter, the spacecraft will spend 12 months completing 33 huge orbits around the planet.
  • The orbits will go north-south over Jupiter’s poles. This sort of orbit is used when mission planners want to cover every square metre of a planet—as Juno circles, the planet rotates underneath and the spacecraft can ‘map’ the whole globe, strip by strip.
  • The orbit will bring Juno to within 5,000 kilometres of the planet’s cloud tops every 11 days. This will be the closest a spacecraft has ever come to Jupiter, apart from the entry probe released by the Galileo spacecraft. (That probe plunged into Jupiter’s atmosphere on December 7, 1995, sending back data for about 57 minutes before being destroyed by the incredible temperatures and pressures.)
  • Jupiter is surrounded by an enormous and intense radiation field. Mission planners intend to keep Juno out of the worst of it—yet still, over the course of its 12 months investigating the giant planet, the spacecraft will receive a total radiation dose equivalent to 100 million dental X-rays. Ouch!

    A Juno solar panel

    Juno carries three 9m-long solar power panels.

  • Because of that, the spacecraft’s vital innards are protected inside a titanium box, known as ‘the vault’.
  • This is the first mission to go so far from the Sun without a plutonium power source. Instead, Juno has three huge, 9-metre-long high-efficiency solar power panels.
  • Juno is named after the Roman goddess and wife of the mythological figure, Jupiter. Juno was supposed to have the ability to see through clouds, so it is fitting that her name is given to a mission that will see below Jupiter’s thick cloud layers.
  • After 12 months orbiting Jupiter, Juno will be deliberately de-orbited and perform a fiery death plunge into the planet’s atmosphere. This will be done to eliminate the possibility of the spacecraft eventually crashing into one of Jupiter’s moons, potentially contaminating it with any microbes that might have been brought all the way from Earth.
  • Total cost of the mission is about US$1.1 billion, which includes all the development, construction, launch, cruise and operation costs through to the end of the mission on October 16, 2017.

Story by Jonathan Nally, SpaceInfo.com.au. Images courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / KSC.

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LEGO and Galileo go to Jupiter!

LEGO figurines aboard Juno

Three LEGO figurines representing the Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno and Galileo Galilei are shown here aboard the Juno spacecraft.

  • Juno unmanned spacecraft set for launch to Jupiter
  • Will carry three LEGO figurines of famous characters
  • Will also carry a plaque of Galileo’s writings

THREE LEGO FIGURINES AND A PLAQUE depicting Galileo’s writings are set to launch to Jupiter at the end of this week.

The inclusion of the three 4cm-tall mini-statues, or figurines, is part of a joint public outreach and educational program developed as part of the partnership between NASA and the LEGO Group to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief. From Mount Olympus, Juno was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature. Juno holds a magnifying glass to signify her search for the truth, while her husband holds a lightning bolt.

The third LEGO crewmember is Galileo Galilei, who made several important discoveries about Jupiter, including the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour). The miniature Galileo has his telescope with him on the journey.

Galileo’s plaque

Among his many achievements, Galileo Galilei discovered that moons orbited Jupiter in 1610. These satellites—Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto—are also known as the Galilean moons.

The plaque, which was provided by the Italian Space Agency, measures 71 by 51 millimetres, is made of flight-grade aluminium and weighs six grams. It was bonded to Juno’s propulsion bay with a spacecraft-grade epoxy.

Juno plaque dedicated to Galileo Galilei

A plaque dedicated to the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei will be carried aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft on its journey to Jupiter.

The graphic on the plaque depicts a self-portrait of Galileo. It also includes—in Galileo’s own hand—a passage he wrote in 1610 of his observations of Jupiter, archived in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence.

Galileo’s text included on the plaque reads as follows: “On the 11th it was in this formation—and the star closest to Jupiter was half the size than the other and very close to the other so that during the previous nights all of the three observed stars looked of the same dimension and among them equally afar; so that it is evident that around Jupiter there are three moving starsinvisible till this time to everyone.”

Artist's impression of the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

Artist's impression of the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

Launch due early Saturday morning

Juno is scheduled to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. The solar-powered spacecraft will orbit Jupiter’s poles 33 times to find out more about the gas giant’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core.

The launch period for Juno opens August 6, 2011, and extends through August 26 (Sydney time zone dates). For an August 6 liftoff, the launch window opens at 1:34am and closes at 2:33am (that’s 11:34am to 12:33pm US EDT on August 5).

More information:

NASA Juno mission pages

Southwest Research Institute June mission pages

Juno mission on Twitter

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL. Images courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / KSC / LEGO.

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Jupiter mission – 5 months ’til launch

NASA’S NEXT JUPITER PROBE, called Juno, is currently undergoing environmental testing at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver.

The solar-powered Juno spacecraft will orbit Jupiter’s poles 33 times to find out more about the gas giant planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. The launch window for Juno from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida opens on August 5, 2011.

The video above is a parody of a “coming attraction” trailer created by NASA Television. The video was produced for a NASA movie-themed exhibit at an international conference.

The spacecraft is fully assembled and all instruments have been integrated.

In the photo below, taken on January 26, Juno had just completed acoustics testing that simulated the soundwave and vibration environment the spacecraft will experience during launch.

Juno spacecraft undergoing testing

NASA's fully assembled Juno spacecraft is undergoing testing to ensure it can withstand launch and the harsh environment of space.

The photo shows Lockheed Martin technicians inspecting the spacecraft just after the test. All three solar array wings were installed and stowed, and the spacecraft’s large high-gain antenna was in place on the top of the avionics vault.

At present, Juno is sealed in a large thermal vacuum chamber, where it is being exposed to the extreme cold and vacuum conditions it will experience on its voyage to Jupiter. The two-week-long test will also simulate many of the flight activities the spacecraft will execute during the mission.

Juno is scheduled to ship from Lockheed Martin’s facility to Kennedy Space Centre in early April, where it will undergo final preparations and launch.

More information: Juno mission

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech / LMSS.

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2011: The year in space

Artist's impression of the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter

Artist's impression of the Juno spacecraft investigating Jupiter. Juno is set for launch later this year.

THERE ARE LOTS OF EXCITING happenings coming up in space this year. Here’s just a sample of what we can expect.

On February 14-15, NASA’s Stardust probe will do a fly-by of comet Tempel 1. It’ll be looking for damage done by the Deep Impact spacecraft, which fired a projectile into the comet back in 2005.

Also there’ll be the launch of Glory, an Earth-orbiting spacecraft that’ll make readings of black carbon and aerosols in the atmosphere, and measure the amount of incoming sunlight. Plus there’ll be the final flight of the space shuttle Discovery, on a mission to the space station.

March will see NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft go into orbit around Mercury, the first probe to do so. A largely unknown world, the closest planet to the Sun is sure to hold some surprises. That month will also mark 25 years since Europe’s Giotto probe gave us our first close-up look at a comet, the famous Halley.

In April there’ll be a bunch of anniversaries, the 30th of the first space shuttle launch, the 40th of the first space station launch (which was the Soviet’s Salyut 1), and the biggie, the 50th anniversary of the flight of Vostok 1, carrying Yuri Gagarin, the first person to go into outer space.

Artist's impression of Salyut 1

Artist's impression of Salyut 1, the world's first space station.

April will also see the last flight of space shuttle Endeavour. And it could be the final shuttle mission of all. An extra flight by Atlantis in June has been approved but not yet funded, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Also in June, some parts of Australia will catch a short glimpse of a lunar eclipse.

July will see the second flight of the new, private Dragon spacecraft, designed to take cargo and eventually people to the International Space Station. Its first short test flight last year went perfectly. Dragon could end up being the replacement for the space shuttle.

Also in July, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will sidle up to the 530km-wide asteroid Vesta, and go into orbit. It’ll spend a year investigating it before heading off to do the same thing with the even larger asteroid Ceres, which is actually known as a dwarf planet these days.

Artist's impression of the Dawn spacecraft

Artist's impression of the Dawn spacecraft studying asteroid Vesta

August will see the launch of Juno, NASA’s new unmanned mission to study the planet Jupiter. It’ll take about five years to get there. And the following month will see NASA launch GRAIL, a pair of satellites that’ll orbit the Moon and map its gravitational field, which will help scientists work out its inner structure.

In November, Russia will launch Fobos-Grunt, a mission to the larger of the two Martian moons, Phobos. All going well, it’ll touch down, grab some samples, and blast off back to Earth with them. The Chinese are piggybacking a small satellite too, which will orbit Mars and study its atmosphere, ionosphere and surface.

Finally, in December, there’ll be another launch of that Dragon capsule, plus the first launch of its competitor, called Cygnus. And to top it off, we’ll have another lunar eclipse.

Image credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

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