NASA's Juno spacecraft gets an extension to orbit Jupiter for the next three years. The decision was made on June 7, following an assessment that Juno is still capable of collecting science data.
A team of independent experts said that Juno is on track to achieve its objectives, and the flyby spacecraft is operating healthy and nominally. Juno's funding is allotted up to the fiscal year 2022, but the prime operations are expected to end in July 2021. Data analysis and other concluding activities shall continue into 2022.
"With these funds, not only can the Juno team continue to answer long-standing questions about Jupiter that first fueled this exciting mission, but they'll also investigate new scientific puzzles motivated by their discoveries thus far," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
He added that missions such as Juno help scientists and citizens reveal new information about distant planets.
Exploring Juno's Mission
Since its arrival to Jupiter in July 2016, Juno has sent numerous images of the planet's colossal storms, thick cloud layers, and cloud bands.
Juno is planned to orbit Jupiter once every 14 days, but due to the presence of sticky valves in the spacecraft's plumbing system, NASA adjusted it to once every 53.5 days. Its mission managers initially wanted to destroy the orbiter by plunging it into Jupiter's clouds sometime after it concludes its mission in July.
To protect Juno from Jupiter's damaging radiation field, it regularly zooms in over the planet's clouds at 130,000 miles per hour in a maneuver called perijove.
What Did Juno Find?
Juno has provided scientists with valuable scientific data to interpret activities in Jupiter's atmosphere. Included in the four-article collection published March 7 in the journal Nature are indications pointing to Jupiter's interior structure, core, mass, and origin.
Scientists reported that Jupiter's atmospheric winds last longer compared to similar atmospheric activities on Earth. Additionally, the massive cyclones detected on the giant gas planet's north and south poles are unlike any atmospheric events that are discovered so far in the solar system.
"These astonishing science results are yet another example of Jupiter's curve balls and a testimony to the value of exploring the unknown from a new perspective with next-generation instruments. Juno's unique orbit and evolutionary high-precision radio science and infrared technologies enabled these paradigm-shifting discoveries," said Scott Bolton, the principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.