The astronomy gods have smiled upon all of the amateur astronomers in the U.S. Thanks to some crazy guys with a crazy notion of representation without taxation (and lots of wasted tea), 240 years later we can celebrate the orbit insertion of NASA’s Juno spacecraft without worrying about the wimpy wifi at work. What better way to celebrate this national holiday than to watch an amazing feat of human ingenuity (that I’m sure has all of the Juno team’s intestines in a grip).
“Of all eight planets, we believe Jupiter formed first.”
First, a bit of textbook info.
It might be surprising, but we really know precious little about the planets spinning with us in this system. This amazing craft will hopefully shed light on when exactly Jupiter was born, what it’s made of, and what drives it’s magnetic field. All of these things are incredibly important, because Jupiter is the first planet to form around our sun. Juno will hopefully tell us so much about how planets form, and about early solar system formation.
End textbook info. NASA has partnered with everyone’s favorite scientist, Bill Nye, for a new video segment called Why With Nye. Watch it. It’s definitely more fun than textbook info. I promise.
Don’t get all starry eyed; Juno has seemingly insurmountable hurdles to jump. I think the scariest thing about the 35 minute maneuver is that Juno will be on autopilot. So if anything goes wrong, the scientists nervously sitting at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory could do absolutely nothing about it. And if that doesn’t leave you with sweaty palms, then consider the amount of radiation that Juno will have to withstand if all else goes smoothly. Here we all thought New Horizons had some challenges…
“…the radiation dosage during the 1.5-year science mission is equivalent to a patient sitting in a dentist’s chair and being X-rayed every second of every day for three years.”
Now you can get starry eyed.
Even if Juno blows up tomorrow, NASA has opened a door I don’t believe they’ll ever be able to close again. Working with amateur astronomers as an idea as never gone over well with NASA, but amateurs are now being asked to help with Juno’s camera (JunoCam). In part, it’s meant to help keep the cost of the $1.1 billion craft down a bit, but I think it’s also going to open up NASA’s eyes as to how much talent and knowledge they can tap for free. So, whether you want to upload your photos and data, or simply vote on the best locations on Jupiter, everyone can have a hand in running one of the most ambitious projects NASA has unveiled in the past several years.
“We’re calling all amateur astronomers to upload their telescopic images and data of Jupiter. These uploads are critical…and will help NASA successfully plan the future of the mission.”
Consider how the founding fathers must have felt penning their names to the Declaration. They knew what they were doing amounted to treason, that they could be tried and hung. They did it anyway. Looking now at the result of hard work and dedication (and nights where you know they ate greasy pizza over desktop keyboards), I can’t help but think the scientists must have asked themselves the same “what if” question.
And we are all the better for it.
The Planetary Society has a full schedule of Juno’s insertion
NASA Eyes On Juno is a fantastic simulation of Juno’s arrival
Happy Fourth of July, fellow ‘Mericans…and Good Luck, Juno