This week, Juno probe shattered distance record on its way to Jupiter, becoming the first solar-powered spacecraft to make such a long trip away from Earth. On Wednesday, NASA announced that the tiny probe managed to reach 493 miles from our star, breaking European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe’s distance record.
The feat is surprising since where Juno is currently located the amount of sunlight it perceives is 25 times weaker than on our planet. The probe is slated to reach Jupiter in early July, and it has been operating since 2011.
NASA scientists noted that the only spacecraft that managed to go so far away within our solar system used nuclear power. By contrast, Juno is working on 100 percent solar energy.
Rick Nybakken, project manager for Juno mission, explained that the tiny craft’s design enables it to generate 500 watts around the fifth planet from the sun and still remain functional.
“Juno is very efficiently designed, and it will be more than enough to get the job done,”
The 4-ton spacecraft is equipped with a set of solar arrays which are embedded with more than 18,600 solar cells each. It was especially designed to stay operational in dim lit locations, as well.
NASA reported that eight other spacecrafts managed to reach Jupiter before Juno, but none of them was solar powered. Juno’s energy efficiency relies on enhanced solar cells, energy efficient tools, and well-timed decisions made by the mission’s team including keeping the craft away from Jovian shadows and establishing an orbit that allows it to absorb even more solar radiation.
Juno, which was named after the Roman goddess of marriage and spouse of Jupiter also known as Zeus in ancient Greek, is expected to orbit the planet 33 times and reach a distance of 3,000 miles above the planet’s gaseous surface. The craft’s instruments are designed to grab scientific data especially on Jupiter’s atmosphere and magnetic field.
Jupiter’s magnetic field is one of the strongest in our solar system because hydrogen is compressed to the point of turning into a liquid, which is scientifically dubbed metallic ‘hydrogen’ because it can conduct electricity just like metals do. The planet’s magnetic field is responsible for the most spectacular auroras in the solar system.
NASA scientists are also eager to learn how far down the planet’s colorful clouds can reach, something the probe’s instruments will be able to measure.
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