By Tamsyn Brann NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
A little over 4 billion years ago, the planets in our solar system coexisted with vast numbers of small rocky or icy objects orbiting the Sun. These were the last remnants of the planetesimals – the primitive building blocks that formed the planets. Most of these leftover objects were then lost, as shifts in the orbits of the giant planets scattered them to the distant outer reaches of the solar system or beyond. But some were captured in two less-distant regions, near points where the gravitational influence of Jupiter and the Sun balance, and have remained trapped there, mostly untouched, for billions of years.
The entire history of human existence is a tiny blip in our solar system’s 4.5-billion-year history. No one was around to see planets forming and undergoing dramatic changes before settling in their present configuration. In order to understand what came before us — before life on Earth and before Earth itself — scientists need to hunt for clues to that mysterious distant past.
CARDIFF, UK (Cardiff University PR) — A location often earmarked as a potential habitat for extra-terrestrial life could prove to be a tricky place for spacecraft to land, new research has revealed.
A team led by scientists from Cardiff University has predicted that fields of sharp ice growing to almost 15 metres [49 feet] tall could be scattered across the equatorial regions of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA JPL/Caltech PR) — Data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft using its Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument point to a new heat source close to the south pole of Io that could indicate a previously undiscovered volcano on the small moon of Jupiter. The infrared data were collected on Dec. 16, 2017, when Juno was about 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers) away from the moon.
“The new Io hotspot JIRAM picked up is about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the nearest previously mapped hotspot,” said Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome. “We are not ruling out movement or modification of a previously discovered hot spot, but it is difficult to imagine one could travel such a distance and still be considered the same feature.”
The Juno team will continue to evaluate data collected on the Dec. 16 flyby, as well as JIRAM data that will be collected during future (and even closer) flybys of Io. Past NASA missions of exploration that have visited the Jovian system (Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini and New Horizons), along with ground-based observations, have located over 150 active volcanoes on Io so far. Scientists estimate that about another 250 or so are waiting to be discovered.
Juno has logged nearly 146 million miles (235 million kilometers) since entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. Juno’s 13th science pass will be on July 16.
Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. The Italian Space Agency (ASI), contributed two instruments, a Ka-band frequency translator (KaT) and the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM). Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.
More information on the Juno mission is available at:
WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has approved an update to Juno’s science operations until July 2021. This provides for an additional 41 months in orbit around Jupiter and will enable Juno to achieve its primary science objectives. 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.
An independent panel of experts confirmed in April that Juno is on track to achieve its science objectives and is already returning spectacular results. The Juno spacecraft and all instruments are healthy and operating nominally.
The first mission to explore Trojan asteroids that orbit in tandem with Jupiter is moving forward toward a late 2021 launch date using heritage hardware that has already been tested in space, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.
“Project officials characterize the Lucy design as low risk because it does not require development of any critical technologies and has a high heritage design,” the GAO found. “For example, these officials stated that Lucy’s design has the same architecture as prior NASA projects such as Juno and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN).
NASA has set mid-2022 for the second flight of the Space Launch System (SLS), but it’s not yet known what the massive booster will actually launch.
“Determination as to whether this launch will be SLS/Orion crewed mission (EM-2) or the SLS/Europa Clipper mission will be made based on risk and readiness of the Europa Clipper project,” according to a decision memo signed on Friday by William C. Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development. Parabolic Arc obtained a copy of the memo.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Scientists re-examining data from an old mission bring new insights to the tantalizing question of whether Jupiter’s moon Europa has the ingredients to support life. The data provide independent evidence that the moon’s subsurface liquid water reservoir may be venting plumes of water vapor above its icy shell.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Few missions can match the achievements of NASA’s groundbreaking Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft during their 40 years of exploration. Here’s a short list of their major accomplishments to date. (more…)
Ignoring the Trump’s Administration’s fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) budget request, the House Appropriations Committee has voted to boost NASA’ spending to $19.88 billion, including significant increases to the space agency’s Exploration and Planetary Science programs.
The appropriations bill is an increase of $779.8 million over Trump’s requested budget of $19.09 billion. It would increase NASA’s budget by $218.5 million over the $19.65 billion the space agency is receiving in FY 2017.
NASA’s Exploration program, which includes the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, would be boosted by $226 million to $4.55 billion under the House measure. The administration had requested $3.93 billion, a cut of $390 million under current spending.
JUPITER ORBIT (NASA PR) — Images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot reveal a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval. The JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno mission snapped pics of the most iconic feature of the solar system’s largest planetary inhabitant during its Monday (July 10) flyby. The images of the Great Red Spot were downlinked from the spacecraft’s memory on Tuesday and placed on the mission’s JunoCam website Wednesday morning.
The House Appropriations Committee has ignored President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts in NASA’s budget and has instead approved a bill that would boost the space agency’s budget.
The spending measure would fund the agency at $19.9 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2018, which officials said was a $219 million increase over the enacted level for FY 2017. Trump has proposed cutting NASA’s budget to just over $19 billion.
Appropriators provided a $226 million boost to the space agency’s exploration budget, which funds the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew spacecraft. They also boosted the budget for NASA’s science programs by $94 million.
NASA’s Education Office, which Trump has proposed shutting down, would receive $90 million.
Honeybee Robotics will begin developing new technologies that would allow a lander to drill into the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa and collect samples for analysis with the help of a pair of NASA small business awards.
Video Caption: The Hubble Space Telescope has captured even more evidence of water vapor plumes on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. The probable plumes appear to be repeating in the same location and correspond with a relatively warm region on Europa’s surface observed by the Galileo spacecraft.
PASADENA, Cailf. (NASA PR) — NASA’s upcoming mission to investigate the habitability of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa now has a formal name: Europa Clipper.
The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around globe.