This week marked a special birthday celebration for Juno, NASA’s spacecraft which is currently in orbit around Jupiter. Juno launched 10 years ago this week, on August 5, 2011, and even though it was originally intended to run only until 2018, its mission was recently extended until 2025.
During its time, Juno has revealed secrets of Jupiter’s strange atmosphere, including weird geometric storms at its poles, has captured some stunning images of the planet and has performed a dramatic propulsive maneuver to outrun an eclipse.
“Since launch, Juno has executed over 2 million commands, orbited Jupiter 35 times, and collected about three terabits of science data,” said Project Manager Ed Hirst of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement. “We are thrilled by our ongoing exploration of Jupiter, and there is much more to come. We have started our extended mission and look forward to 42 additional orbits to explore the Jovian system.”
To celebrate 10 years of Juno, NASA released this new image of Jupiter’s icy moon Ganymede, taken by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument onboard Juno. JIRAM records in the infrared wavelength, revealing features that would be impossible to see in the visible light spectrum. It was used to record data on Ganymede as Juno flew past it recently.
“Ganymede is larger than the planet Mercury, but just about everything we explore on this mission to Jupiter is on a monumental scale,” said Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “The infrared and other data collected by Juno during the flyby contain fundamental clues for understanding the evolution of Jupiter’s 79 moons from the time of their formation to today.”
Ganymede has some interesting features, such as being the only moon in the solar system with a magnetic field, which affects the flow of charged particles from the sun called plasma, which in turn affects the moon’s ice.
“We found Ganymede’s high latitudes dominated by water ice, with fine grain size, which is the result of the intense bombardment of charged particles,” said Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome. “Conversely, low latitudes are shielded by the moon’s magnetic field and contain more of its original chemical composition, most notably of non-water-ice constituents such as salts and organics. It is extremely important to characterize the unique properties of these icy regions to better understand the space-weathering processes that the surface undergoes.”
Over its 10-year mission, Juno has become well-known to the public particularly thanks to its JunoCam imager, which has captured some stunning photos of our solar system’s most beautiful planet. Below are some of our favorite images that Juno has captured: