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LASP scientists instrumental in mission to Jupiter

August 3, 2011
Juno spacecraft at Jupiter

Juno is expected to arrive at Jupiter in 2016, on a mission to investigate the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Juno's color camera will provide close-up images of Jupiter, including the first detailed views of the planet's poles. (Courtesy NASA/JPL)

Several LASP scientists are involved in NASA’s upcoming Juno mission to Jupiter. Scheduled to launch on August 5, 2011, the mission will improve understanding of our solar system origins by revealing details about the formation and evolution of the gas giant. The spacecraft will embark on a five-year, 400-million-mile voyage to Jupiter, where it will orbit the planet 33 times, collecting data for more than one Earth year.

LASP scientist, and CU-Boulder professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, Fran Bagenal, is leading the Juno team responsible for coordinating observations of Jupiter’s magnetic field in space, with a particular interest in what the gravity fields will reveal about the planet’s deep internal structure, or dynamo. Through the use of twin magnetometers, Juno will study the magnetosphere for the first time near the poles, where enormous magnetic effects appear in the atmosphere as auroras.

“This will be the first time anyone has flown over the poles of Jupiter to look directly down on the aurora,” said Bagenal. “We will be flying the spacecraft through regions where charged particles are accelerated to the point of bombarding the atmosphere of Jupiter hard enough to make it glow at the poles.”

Bagenal is collaborating with fellow LASP scientists Robert Ergun and Peter Delamere, both members of the Magnetospheres of the Outer Planets Group at LASP, which studies magnetospheric phenomena of the outer solar system in an effort to better understand the electromagnetic processes that dominate space surrounding the outer planets. Ergun specializes in space plasmas at Earth, Mars, and Jupiter, while Delamere has developed models to study the flow of mass and energy through the inner magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn. Also working with the Juno mission is LASP graduate student Mariel Desroche, who is modeling the outer region of Jupiter’s magnetosphere and its interaction with the solar wind.

By mapping Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields, mission scientists should be able to determine the characteristics of the planet’s interior structure.

“My biggest hope is that all of our predictions about Jupiter are wrong, and that we find something completely different than what we expect,” said Bagenal. “When our preconceived notions are off, it shows us we can never become complacent. New data from the solar system’s planets keeps us excited enough to re-visit them to learn more about the history and fate of our solar system.”

To learn more about the Juno mission and its key science objectives, visit: