By now, regular readers well-know how these white knuckle close encounter events so completely fire my passions. [Just one of our prior stories on Juno is here. Use the search box above, for the rest -- another ten or fifteen of them.] Each time she swings in close, the risks multiply. . . . [Updated: She survived, nary a shipwreck, a'tween her thighs. . .
We should know by around 1 PM EDT on Monday whether she survived her dip.]
So it is that on Monday (tomorrow, around Five AM local), the lilting, long-legged Juno, a twisting copper-colored shepherded moon-lette (of sorts), will once again dip dangerously close to the Jovian polar vortex, and once again brave perhaps the most daunting conditions a spacecraft has ever encountered inside our solar system. . . .
She will be a virtual blur, movin' at a blazin' sprinter-pace, as fly-bys go (at 129,000 miles an hour -- to minimize time in the danger zone, and not get trapped in a gravitational death spiral), enduring crazy hot radiation @ 20 million RAD; a magnetic field 20,000 times stronger than Earth's -- coming rapidly out of minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit, straight into an unimaginably vast and powerful microwave oven, on full-blast. "Charred on the outside, frozen on the inside," indeed.
All of this, half a billion miles away from any possible Earth-based software repair (and thus a 48 minute lag -- at the speed of light, for commands to be received). So, as she speeds past this fourth time, she will have all of her eight instruments on, and recording. . . . We will be keeping a good thought -- that her graceful copper-colored limbs aren't fried by the radiation, or fouled by the magnetic storms, as she collects data on what Jupiter hides beneath those enigmatic cloud-tops.
Here's a bit, from NASA, this clear cold Sunday morning:
. . . ."This will be our fourth science pass -- the fifth close flyby of Jupiter of the mission -- and we are excited to see what new discoveries Juno will reveal,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "Every time we get near Jupiter’s cloud tops, we learn new insights that help us understand this amazing giant planet."
The Juno science team continues to analyze returns from previous flybys. Scientists have discovered that Jupiter's magnetic fields are more complicated than originally thought, and that the belts and zones that give the planet's cloud tops their distinctive look extend deep into the its interior. Observations of the energetic particles that create the incandescent auroras suggest a complicated current system involving charged material lofted from volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io. . . .
It will take several weeks to download all the data, but we are already learning tons of new gas giant planetary science, from her earlier death-defying dips. 'Tis grin-worthy, indeed -- now, as lots of Spring Breakers' weeks close out. . . . smile.