After being radio silent for days, Juno is alive and well. It has successfully completed its eighth flyby and resumed sending new data about Jupiter.
Jupiter’s probe Juno has finally made contact after it stopped sending data for a while during its eighth flyby on Oct. 24. The space agency confirmed on Nov. 2 that while the flyby was successful, it received the information only on Oct. 31 due to solar conjunction.
A solar conjunction occurs when the communication path between the two planets come close to the sun. When this occurs, this pathway becomes vulnerable to the star’s charged particles, which could potentially corrupt the transmitted data. Engineers, therefore, designed the probe to follow a scheduled transmission moratorium every solar conjunction. After the moratorium, the probe resumed sending new data to Earth.
“All the science collected during the flyby was carried in Juno’s memory until yesterday, when Jupiter came out of solar conjunction,” new project manager Ed Hirst said. He also assured all instruments and the JunoCam are still working properly.
The New Frontiers
Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, a series of exploratory missions in other regions of the solar system. Others are New Horizons, which already made a flyby of Pluto, and OSIRIS-REx, which should carry sample from asteroid Bennu back to Earth in 2023.
NASA launched the Jupiter-headed spacecraft on Aug. 5, 2011, and it went into orbit of the planet on July 4, 2016.
With the probe, the project team has gathered more revealing information about the biggest planet of the solar system, including its origin, presence of any core, magnetic field, and mysterious auroras. JunoCam has also sent back stunning images of the planet.
The planet, however, has a strong magnetic field and a radiation belt that could damage its instruments. The probe then flies in an orbit found between the cloud cover and the radiation belt. It swings as far as 8 million kilometers from the planet before it dips every 53 days instead of 14 days. It then helps the probe maintain an ideal orbit.
The slowdown, though, means the probe and the planet will have only 12 close encounters instead of more than 30 as originally planned. Juno is expected dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere on July 2018, although the study may extend.
It already completed its seventh flyby on Sept. 1 and is scheduled to have its ninth on Dec. 16. So far, NASA hasn’t announced any upcoming solar conjunction.