A group of LASP scientists and students are anxiously awaiting the arrival of NASA’s Juno spacecraft at Jupiter July 4, a mission expected to reveal the hidden interior of the gas giant as well as keys to how our solar system formed.
Launched in 2011, the spacecraft is slated to orbit Jupiter’s poles 37 times roughly 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) above its cloud tops to better understand the origin and evolution of the largest planet in the solar system. Scientists hope to determine if Jupiter has a solid core, measure the planet’s magnetic fields, hunt for water vapor and observe the polar auroras.
Three planetary scientists from LASP and five University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) students are part of the Juno mission.
By Fran Bagenal, CU-Boulder Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and New Horizons co-investigator
I admit that I love giving presentations on New Horizons to public audiences. It’s the killer combination of Pluto and space exploration. Everyone digs it. The best are astronomy clubs—just bursting with enthusiasm. And my favorite group of all time is the Rocky Mountain Star Stare (RMSS). Based in Colorado Springs, RMSS meets every year on a piece of land close to the Colorado–New Mexico border that is far from city lights. The trek is worth it—the Milky Way blazes across the sky.And these guys have brought along the most amazing astro-geek equipment.
An instrument to be designed and built at LASP has been selected to fly on a NASA mission to Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, which is believed to harbor a subsurface ocean that may provide conditions suitable for life.
The LASP instrument, known as the SUrface Dust Mass Analyzer (SUDA), will be used to measure the composition of solid particles released from Europa’s surface due to meteoroid bombardment. The instrument also will be able to measure the properties of small, solid particles believed to be spewing from a hidden ocean within the moon, said University of Colorado Boulder Assistant Professor of Physics, Sascha Kempf, who will serve as principal investigator on the project.
NASA has awarded a team led by the University of Colorado Boulder, which includes LASP scientists, more than $7 million to study aspects of the origins, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.
The team, led by CU-Boulder Professor Alexis Templeton of the geological sciences department, will be researching what scientists call “rock-powered life.” Rocky planets store enormous amounts of chemical energy, that, when released through the interaction of rocks and water, have the ability to power living systems on Earth as well as on other planets like Mars, said Templeton, principal investigator on the effort.
In 1977, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president, Elvis died, Virginia park ranger Roy Sullivan was hit by lightning a record seventh time and two NASA space probes destined to turn planetary science on its head launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The identical spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were launched in the summer and programmed to pass by Jupiter and Saturn on different paths. Voyager 2 went on to visit Uranus and Neptune, completing the “Grand Tour of the Solar System,” perhaps the most exciting interplanetary mission ever flown. University of Colorado Boulder scientists, who designed and built identical instruments for Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were as stunned as anyone when the spacecraft began sending back data to Earth.
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 Glen Stewart recently co-authored a study published in The Astrophysical Journal concerning the formation of large moons around Jupiter and Saturn. The study shows that the differences between the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn—Jupiter has four large moons while Saturn has only one large moon and many small icy moons—informs how the moons were formed.