Each day, the station completes 16 orbits of our home planet as the six humans living and working aboard our orbiting laboratory conduct important science and research. Their work will not only benefit life here on Earth, but will help us venture deeper into space than ever before.
Our Juno mission arrived at the King of Planets in July 2016. The intrepid robotic explorer has been revealing Jupiter’s secrets ever since.
Here are 10 historic Juno mission highlights:
1. Arrival at a Colossus
After an odyssey of almost five years and 1.7 billion miles (2.7 billion kilometers), our Juno spacecraft fired its main engine to enter orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Juno, with its suite of nine science instruments, was the first spacecraft to orbit the giant planet since the Galileo mission in the 1990s. It would be the first mission to make repeated excursions close to the cloud tops, deep inside the planet’s powerful radiation belts.
2. Science, Meet Art
Juno carries a color camera called JunoCam. In a remarkable first for a deep space mission, the Juno team reached out to the general public not only to help plan which pictures JunoCam would take, but also to process and enhance the resulting visual data. The results include some of the most beautiful images in the history of space exploration.
3. A Whole New Jupiter
It didn’t take long for Juno—and the science teams who hungrily consumed the data it sent home—to turn theories about how Jupiter works inside out. Among the early findings: Jupiter’s poles are covered in Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together. Jupiter’s iconic belts and zones were surprising, with the belt near the equator penetrating far beneath the clouds, and the belts and zones at other latitudes seeming to evolve to other structures below the surface.
4. The Ultimate Classroom
The Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) project, a collaboration among NASA, JPL and the Lewis Center for Educational Research, lets students do real science with a large radio telescope. GAVRT data includes Jupiter observations relevant to Juno, and Juno scientists collaborate with the students and their teachers.
5. Spotting the Spot
Measuring in at 10,159 miles (16,350 kilometers) in width (as of April 3, 2017) Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth. The storm has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking. In July 2017, Juno passed directly over the spot, and JunoCam images revealed a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval.
“For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorizing about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyze all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno’s eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present and future of the Great Red Spot.”
6. Beauty Runs Deep
Data collected by the Juno spacecraft during its first pass over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in July 2017 indicate that this iconic feature penetrates well below the clouds. The solar system’s most famous storm appears to have roots that penetrate about 200 miles (300 kilometers) into the planet’s atmosphere.
7. Powerful Auroras, Powerful Mysteries
Scientists on the Juno mission observed massive amounts of energy swirling over Jupiter’s polar regions that contribute to the giant planet’s powerful auroras – only not in ways the researchers expected. Examining data collected by the ultraviolet spectrograph and energetic-particle detector instruments aboard Juno, scientists observed signatures of powerful electric potentials, aligned with Jupiter’s magnetic field, that accelerate electrons toward the Jovian atmosphere at energies up to 400,000 electron volts. This is 10 to 30 times higher than the largest such auroral potentials observed at Earth.
Jupiter has the most powerful auroras in the solar system, so the team was not surprised that electric potentials play a role in their generation. What puzzled the researchers is that despite the magnitudes of these potentials at Jupiter, they are observed only sometimes and are not the source of the most intense auroras, as they are at Earth.
8. Heat from Within
Juno scientists shared a 3D infrared movie depicting densely packed cyclones and anticyclones that permeate the planet’s polar regions, and the first detailed view of a dynamo, or engine, powering the magnetic field for any planet beyond Earth (video above). Juno mission scientists took data collected by the spacecraft’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument and generated a 3D fly-around of the Jovian world’s north pole.
Imaging in the infrared part of the spectrum, JIRAM captures light emerging from deep inside Jupiter equally well, night or day. The instrument probes the weather layer down to 30 to 45 miles (50 to 70 kilometers) below Jupiter’s cloud tops.
9. A Highly Charged Atmosphere
Powerful bolts of lightning light up Jupiter’s clouds. In some ways its lightning is just like what we’re used to on Earth. In other ways,it’s very different. For example, most of Earth’s lightning strikes near the equator; on Jupiter, it’s mostly around the poles.
10. Extra Innings
In June, we approved an update to Juno’s science operations until July 2021. This provides for an additional 41 months in orbit around. Juno is in 53-day orbits rather than 14-day orbits as initially planned because of a concern about valves on the spacecraft’s fuel system. This longer orbit means that it will take more time to collect the needed science data, but an independent panel of experts confirmed that Juno is on track to achieve its science objectives and is already returning spectacular results. The spacecraft and all its instruments are healthy and operating nominally.
Read the full web version of this week’s ‘Solar System: 10 Things to Know’ article HERE.
The launch went as planned. Our Soyuz spacecraft did a great job getting the three of us to the International Space Station (ISS).
A week later, it all seems like a blur. The bus driver played me a video of my family and friends delivering their good luck messages. After exiting the bus at the launch pad, I was fortunate to have the Soyuz chief designer (Roman) and NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier) walk me to the stairs and elevator that would take us to the top of the rocket for boarding. The temperature at the pad was approximately -17 degrees centigrade, and we were wearing the Russian Polar Bear suits over our spacesuits in order to stay warm. Walking in these suits is a little hard, and I was happy to have Roman and Bill helping me.
We walked into the fog created by the systems around the rocket, climbed the ladder, and waved goodbye. My last words before launch were to Bill, “Boiler Up!”. Bill is a fellow and very well-known Boilermaker. We strapped in, and the launch and docking were nominal. But I will add that the second stage cutoff and separation, and ignition of the third stage was very exciting. We were under approximately 4 Gs when the engine cutoff, which gave us a good jolt forward during the deceleration and then a good jolt back into the seat after the third stage ignited. I looked at Anton and we both began to giggle like school children.
We spent two days in orbit as our phase angle aligned with ISS. Surprisingly, I did not feel sick. I even got 4 hours of sleep the first night and nearly 6 hours the second night. Having not been able to use my diaper while sitting in the fetal position during launch, it was nice to get out of our seats and use the ACY (Russian toilet). Docking was amazing. I compared it to rendezvousing on a tanker in a fighter jet, except the rendezvous with ISS happened over a much larger distance. As a test pilot, it was very interesting to watch the vehicle capture and maintain the centerline of ISS’s MRM-1 docking port as well as capturing and maintaining the required speed profile.
Just like landing at the ship, I could feel the vehicle’s control system (thrusters) making smaller and faster corrections and recorrections. In the flight test world, this is where the “gains” increase rapidly and where any weaknesses in the control system will be exposed. It was amazing to see the huge solar arrays and tons of equipment go by my window during final approach. What an engineering marvel the ISS is. Smooth sailing right into the docking port we went!
About an hour later, after equalizing pressures between the station and Soyuz, we opened the hatch and greeted our friends already onboard. My first view of the inside of the space station looked pretty close to the simulators we have been training in for the last several years. My first words were, “Hey, what are you guys doing at Building 9?”. Then we tackled each other with celebratory hugs!
Our crew just finished the final training event before the launch. Tomorrow, at 13:20 local time (Baikonur), we will strap the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft to our backs and fly it to low Earth orbit. We will spend 2.5 days in low Earth orbit before docking to the MRM-1 docking port on the International Space Station (ISS). There we will begin approximately 168 days of maintenance, service and science aboard one of the greatest engineering marvels that humans have ever created.
Today was bittersweet. Ending a 2-year process of intense training was welcomed by all of us. We are very tired. Seeing our families for the last time was difficult. I am pretty lucky, though. My wife, Raynette, and the kids have grown up around military service and are conditioned to endure the time spent apart during extended calls-to-duty. We are also very much anticipating the good times we will have upon my return in June. Sean and Amy showed me a few videos of them mucking it up at Red Square before flying out to Baikonur. Eric was impressed with the Russian guards marching in to relieve the watch at Red Square. Raynette was taking it all in stride and did not seem surprised by any of it. I think I might have a family of mutants who are comfortable anywhere. Nice! And, by the way, I am VERY proud of all of them!
Tomorrow’s schedule includes a wake-up at 04:00, followed by an immediate medical exam and light breakfast. Upon returning to our quarters, we will undergo a few simple medical procedures that should help make the 2.5-day journey to ISS a little more comfortable. I’ve begun prepping with motion sickness medication that should limit the nausea associated with the first phases of spaceflight. I will continue this effort through docking. This being my first flight, I’m not sure how my body will respond and am taking all precautions to maintain a good working capability. The commander will need my help operating the vehicle, and I need to not be puking into a bag during the busy times. We suit up at 09:30 and then report to the State Commission as “Готовы к Полёту”, or “Ready for Flight”. We’ll enter the bus, wave goodbye to our friends and family, and then head out to the launch pad. Approximately 2 kilometers from the launch pad, the bus will stop.
The crew will get out, pee on the bus’s tire, and then complete the last part of the drive to the launch pad. This is a traditional event first done by Yuri Gagarin during his historic first flight and repeated in his honor to this day. We will then strap in and prepare the systems for launch. Next is a waiting game of approximately 2 hours. Ouch. The crew provided five songs each to help pass the time. My playlist included “Born to Run” (Springsteen), “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Guns and Roses), “Cliffs of Dover” (Eric Johnson), “More than a Feeling” (Boston), and “Touch the Sky” (Rainbow Bridge, Russian). Launch will happen precisely at 13:20.
I think this sets the stage. It’s 21:30, only 6.5 hours until duty calls. Time to get some sleep. If I could only lower my level of excitement!
Our lunar orbiter, also known as LRO, has been collecting data on lunar topography, temperature, resources, solar radiation, and geology since it launched nine years ago. Our latest collection of this data is now in 4K resolution. This updated “Tour of the Moon” takes you on a virtual tour of our nearest neighbor in space, with new science updates from the vastly expanded data trove.
First stop, Orientale Basin located on the rim of the western nearside. It’s about the size of Texas and is the best-preserved impact structure on the Moon. Topography data from LRO combined with gravity measurements from our twin GRAIL spacecraft reveal the structure below the surface and help us understand the geologic consequences of large impacts.
South-Pole and Shackleton Crater
Unlike Earth, the Moon’s axis is barely tilted relative to the Sun. This means that there are craters at the poles where the sunlight never reaches, called permanently shadowed regions. As a result, the Moon’s South Pole has some of the coldest measured places in the solar system. How cold? -410 degrees F.
Because these craters are so cold and dark, water that happens to find its way into them never has the opportunity to evaporate. Several of the instruments on LRO have found evidence of water ice, which you can see in the highlighted spots in this visualization.
South-Pole Aitken Basin
South Pole-Aitken Basin is the Moon’s largest, deepest and oldest observed impact structure. Its diameter is about 2,200 km or 1,367 miles across and takes up ¼ of the Moon! If there was a flat, straight road and you were driving 60 mph, it would take you about 22 hours to drive across. And the basin is so deep that nearly two Mount Everests stacked on each other would fit from the bottom of the basin to the rim. South-Pole Aitken Basin is a top choice for a landing site on the far side of the Moon.
Now let’s go to the near side. Tycho Crater is 100 million years young. Yes, that’s young in geologic time. The central peak of the impact crater likely formed from material that rebounded back up after being compressed in the impact, almost like a spring. Check out that boulder on top. It looks small in this image, but it could fill a baseball stadium.
Also prominent on the nearside is the Aristarchus Plateau. It features a crater so bright that you could see it with your naked eye from Earth! The Aristarchus Plateau is particularly interesting to our scientists because it reveals much of the Moon’s volcanic history. The region is covered in rocks from volcanic eruptions and the large river-like structure is actually a channel made from a long-ago lava flow.
Apollo 17 Landing Site
As much as we study the Moon looking for sites to visit, we also look back at places we’ve already been. This is because the new data that LRO is gathering helps us reinterpret the geology of familiar places, giving scientists a better understanding of the sequence of events in early lunar history.
Here, we descend to the Apollo 17 landing site in the Taurus-Littrow valley, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon. The LRO camera is even able to capture a view of the bottom half of the Apollo 17 Lunar Lander, which still sits on the surface, as well as the rover vehicle. These images help preserve our accomplishment of human exploration on the Moon’s surface.
Finally, we reach the North Pole. Like the South Pole, there are areas that are in permanent shadow and others that bask in nearly perpetual light. LRO scientists have taken detailed brightness and terrain measurements of the North Pole in order to model these areas of sunlight and shadow through time. Sunlit peaks and crater rims here may be ideal locations for generating solar power for future expeditions to the Moon.
LRO was designed as a one-year mission. Now in its ninth year, the spacecraft and the data emphasize the power of long-term data collection. Thanks to its many orbits around the Moon, we have been able to expand on lunar science from the Apollo missions while paving the way for future lunar exploration. And as the mission continues to gather data, it will provide us with many more opportunities to take a tour of our Moon.
Jupiter’s vibrant bands of light belts and dark regions appear primed for their close-up during our Juno spacecraft’s 10th flyby on Feb. 7. This flyby was a gravity science positioned pass. During orbits that highlight gravity experiments, Juno is positioned toward Earth in a way that allows both transmitters to downlink data in real-time to one of the antennas of our Deep Space Network. All of Juno’s science instruments and the spacecraft’s JunoCam were in operation during the flyby, collecting data that is now being returned to Earth. The science behind this beautifully choreographed image will help us understand the origin and structure of the planet beneath those lush, swirling clouds.
Happy New Year! And happy supermoon! Tonight, the Moon will appear extra big and bright to welcome us into 2018 – about 6% bigger and 14% brighter than the average full Moon. And how do we know that? Well, each fall, our science visualizer Ernie Wright uses data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to render over a quarter of a million images of the Moon. He combines these images into an interactive visualization, Moon Phase and Libration, which depicts the Moon at every day and hour for the coming year.
Want to see what the Moon will look like on your birthday this year? Just put in the date, and even the hour (in Universal Time) you were born to see your birthday Moon.
Our Moon is quite dynamic. In addition to Moon phases, our Moon
appears to get bigger and smaller throughout the year, and it wobbles! Or at
least it looks that way to us on Earth. This wobbling is called libration, from
the Latin for ‘balance scale’ (libra). Wright relies on LRO maps of the Moon
and NASA orbit calculations to create the most accurate depiction of the 6 ways
our Moon moves from our perspective.
The Moon phases we see on Earth are caused by the
changing positions of the Earth and Moon relative to the Sun. The Sun always
illuminates half of the Moon, but we see changing shapes as the Moon revolves
around the Earth. Wright uses a our software library called SPICE to calculate
the position and orientation of the Moon and Earth at every moment of the year. With his
visualization, you can input any day and time of the year and see what the Moon
will look like!
2. Shape of the Moon
Check out that crater detail! The Moon is not a smooth sphere.
It’s covered in mountains and valleys and thanks to LRO, we know the shape of
the Moon better than any other celestial body in the universe. To get the most
accurate depiction possible of where the sunlight falls on the lunar surface
throughout the month, Wright uses the same graphics software used by Hollywood
design studios, including Pixar, and a method called ‘raytracing’ to calculate
the intricate patterns of light and shadow on the Moon’s surface, and he checks
the accuracy of his renders against photographs of the Moon he takes through
his own telescope.
3. Apparent Size
Moon Phase and Libration visualization shows you the apparent size of the Moon.
The Moon’s orbit is elliptical, instead of circular – so sometimes it is closer
to the Earth and sometimes it is farther. You’ve probably heard the term
“supermoon.” This describes a full Moon at perigee (the point when the Moon is
closest to the Earth in its orbit). A supermoon can appear up to 14% bigger and brighter
than a full Moon at apogee (the point when the Moon is farthest from the Earth
in its orbit).
Our supermoon tonight is a full Moon very close to perigee, and will appear to be about 14% bigger than the July 27 full Moon, the smallest full Moon of 2018, occuring at apogee. Input those dates into the Moon Phase and Libration visualization to see this difference in apparent size!
4. East-West Libration
Over a month, the Moon appears to nod, twist, and roll. The
east-west motion, called ‘libration in longitude’, is another effect of the
Moon’s elliptical orbital path. As the Moon travels around the Earth, it goes
faster or slower, depending on how close it is to the Earth. When the Moon gets
close to the Earth, it speeds up thanks to a push from Earth’s gravity. Then it
slows down, when it’s farther from the Earth. While this speed in orbital
motion changes, the rotational speed of the Moon stays constant.
that when the Moon moves faster around the Earth, the Moon itself doesn’t rotate
quite enough to keep the same exact side facing us and we get to see a little
more of the eastern side of the Moon. When the Moon moves more slowly around
the Earth, its rotation gets a little ahead, and we see a bit more of its
5. North-South Libration
Moon also appears to nod, as if it were saying “yes,” a motion called
‘libration in latitude’. This is caused by the 5 degree tilt of the Moon’s
orbit around the Earth. Sometimes the Moon is above the Earth’s northern
hemisphere and sometimes it’s below the Earth’s southern hemisphere, and this
lets us occasionally see slightly more of the northern or southern hemispheres
of the Moon!
6. Axis Angle
Finally, the Moon appears to tilt back and forth like a metronome.
The tilt of the Moon’s orbit contributes to this, but it’s mostly because of
the 23.5 degree tilt of our own observing platform, the Earth. Imagine standing
sideways on a ramp. Look left, and the ramp slopes up. Look right and the ramp
Now look in front of you. The horizon will look higher on the
right, lower on the left (try this by tilting your head left). But if you turn
around, the horizon appears to tilt the opposite way (tilt your head to the
right). The tilted platform of the Earth works the same way as we watch the
Moon. Every two weeks we have to look in the opposite direction to see the
Moon, and the ground beneath our feet is then tilted the opposite way as well.
So put this all together, and you get this:
Beautiful isn’t it? See if you can notice these phenomena when you observe the Moon. And keep coming back all year to check on the Moon’s changing appearance and help plan your observing sessions.
Follow @NASAMoon on Twitter to keep up with the latest lunar updates.