Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hubble Transits Jupiter listed a nice selection of photographs, and this is one that I thought to be very rare. It shows the Hubble Space Telescope transiting the planet Jupiter, in Brisbane, Australia. Photo credit Tom Harradine. He writes, "This morning I managed to catch the HST transit Jupiter. Location: Nudgee Beach, Brisbane, Australia Time: 6:24am 30th July 2011 (20:24UT 29th July) - 8min before sunrise, Altitude= 48.4° Azimuth=346.1° Taken with Canon EOS 550D at prime focus of 12” f/5 Sky-Watcher Goto Dobsonian 640x480 60fps video crop mode, 1/2000s, ISO 400, Standard Picture Style Duration of passage through the frame: 0.2 seconds HST: 567km above the Earth and 735 km away. Angular size about 4 arcseconds, magnitude 2.4 Jupiter: angular size 40 arcseconds, magnitude -2.3." View the submission here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jupiter-Bound Juno Spacecraft Prepares to Lauch August 5

After the Galileo spacecraft was sent to Jupiter in 1995 to learn more of the wondrous gas giant,astronomers seem to not just get enough! Juno is a NASA spacecraft that will travel to Jupiter for the purpose of learning more about it's interior complexity, atmosphere, and auroras. According to NASA, Juno will orbit Jupiter 33 times and will reach the planet in July of 2016. It will be launched on the Atlas V 551 Rocket, August 5, 2011 after lots re-scheduling before.  

"We’re about to start our journey to Jupiter to unlock the secrets of the early solar system," said Scott Bolton, the mission's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "After eight years of development, the spacecraft is ready for its important mission."

"The on-pad functional test is the first of seven tests and reviews that Juno and its flight team will undergo during the spacecraft's last 10 days on Earth," said Jan Chodas, Juno's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "There are a number of remaining prelaunch activities that we still need to focus on, but the team is really excited that the final days of preparation, which we’ve been anticipating for years, are finally here. We are ready to go."

Artist's conception of Juno at Jupiter

Jupiter has been visited many times before Galileo, though. In 1972, Pioneer 10 was launched and made a flyby past Jupiter, but hasn't been heard from since 2003 due to communication failure. Pioneer 11 was launched in 1973, and flybyed past Saturn and Jupiter, but also lost communication in 1995. The communications of these probes were probably lost due to the fact of primitive equipment, these probes were sent out so early compared to technology today.

1979 brought us to Voyager 1's flyby of Jupiter, providing us with extremely high-quality images. The same year also brought us Voyager 2's flyby, which discovered the volcanic activity on Io. To finish, Ulysses flew by Jupiter in 1992, Cassini-Huygens flew by in 2000, and New Horizons flew by in 2007. (Yes, this is the New Horizons that will explore Pluto.)

Although the two paragraphs above are just fly-bys of the planet, Galileo is the only craft that actually orbited the planet, as Juno will. Below is a comprehensive list of objectives from Wikipedia that Juno will try its best to accomplish:

The Juno spacecraft's suite of seven science instruments will determine:
  • The ratio of oxygen to hydrogen, effectively measuring the abundance of water in Jupiter, which will help distinguish among prevailing theories linking the gas giant's formation to the solar system.
  • Obtain a better estimate of Jupiter's core mass, which will also help distinguish among prevailing theories linking the gas giant's formation to the solar system.
  • Precisely map Jupiter's gravity to assess the distribution of mass in Jupiter's interior, including properties of the planet's structure and dynamics.
  • Precisely map Jupiter's magnetic field to assess the origin and structure of the field and how deep in Jupiter the magnetic field is created. This experiment also will help scientists understand the fundamental physics of dynamo theory.
  • Map the variation in atmospheric composition, temperature, structure, cloud opacity and dynamics to depths far greater than 100 bars at all latitudes.
  • Characterize and explore the three dimensional structure of Jupiter's polar magnetosphere and its auroras.

NASA should be broadcasting this event live like they have been, if you would like to check on NASA TV. For Juno - let your research be worthwhile and make Jupiter proud! "The launch period for Juno opens Aug. 5, 2011, and extends through Aug. 26. For an Aug. 5 liftoff, the launch window opens at 11:34 a.m. EDT and remains open through 12:43 ED," NASA writes.

So, to tell the truth, Juno can be launched any time between those two dates; but be optimistic: Juno could (and may) be launched the 5th! More from NASA.