On July 4, the $1.1 billion Juno probe will be arriving at Jupiter‘s orbit. It will become the first spacecraft ever to approach the gas giant in a significant manner.

It is not easy to resist Jupiter’s atmosphere, as it harbors an immense amount of radiation that is capable of destroying most unprepared space probes. It was stated that as the mission takes place, the spacecraft will be exposed to a radiation equivalent to one hundred million dental X-rays.

NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter July 4, 2016. Credit: NASA

Juno is expected to maneuver so it is able to circumvent the planet and orbit around it, but there are concerns as to whether the maneuver will be successful. There is a distinct possibility of Juno simply passing by and not entering Jupiter’s orbit.

The spacecraft was launched back in August 2011. Although Juno is designed to resist Jupiter’s radiation, the effective time of operation of its instruments will be relatively low. It is expected for Juno to perform at least 37 close approaches over the course of two years, which will yield a significant amount of data able to be analyzed by NASA.

A “day” in Jupiter is only 10 earth hours. Due to its astounding rotation speed, Jupiter’s magnetic field is very strong, thus becoming a practical death sentence for any spacecraft that spends too long in an inefficient orbit around the planet, something that the Juno team has already foreseen.

What is there to learn from Jupiter

There are still many doubts regarding the planet’s composition and how it was initially formed. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, it is 1,321 times larger than earth but only 317 times as massive due to its gaseous composition. The Juno mission is set to obtain more information about the planet’s interior.

According to NASA, gas giants formed before many younger stars, and because of their size and gravitational pull, they are very important in shaping the orbit of nearby planets and asteroids.

The base theory is that Jupiter formed at its current orbit, but there is evidence that allows for the possibility of the planet being born elsewhere, and then it was attracted by the sun’s gravitational pull. It is estimated that Jupiter was formed at the same time as the sun, which indicates that their composition should be very similar.

A probe dropped by the Galileo spacecraft in the 1990’s confirmed that Jupiter had heavy elements in its atmosphere that were not supposed to be there, which suggests that the planet had to obtain them from an extra-solar environment.

One of the main objectives of the Juno mission is to obtain accurate measurements of Jupiter’s core. It is believed that most gas giants are exactly that, enormous spheres made out of gas. The composition of Jupiter will provide important clues about its present amounts of water and oxygen, something NASA scientists are very interested in because it will allow for a greater understanding of how these elements were launched through space and how they ended up on earth, thus giving origin to life.

Source: Mission Juno