Radiation Threat Looms Over Juno’s Journey to Jupiter  

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Jupiter
Courtesy of NASA (Flickr CC0)

Juno is a NASA space probe launched in 2011 and successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. Its primary mission is to study Jupiter’s atmosphere, interior, aurora, and magnetic fields.

However, Juno is not without its dangers. As it orbits Jupiter, it is slowly exposed to more and more radiation. This radiation could potentially damage the spacecraft and interfere with its mission.

What is NASA doing to mitigate the radiation threat that Juno faces?

Defining Radiation

Radiation is a type of energy that is emitted from a source. It can be in the form of waves or particles, and it can be harmful and beneficial depending on its dose.

There are two types of radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing radiation is the type that can cause damage to cells and DNA, while non-ionizing radiation is the type that doesn’t have the same potential to cause harm.

Both types of radiation can be found in our environment, but ionizing radiation is more dangerous as it can cause cancer and other health problems.

How Is Radiation Measured?

When we think of radiation, we often think of the harmful kind that can cause cancer. But there’s also a natural kind of radiation all around us.

So what is radiation? Simply put, it’s energy that travels through space through waves or particles. And while we can’t see or feel it, radiation is always present on Earth and in areas.

The type and amount of radiation people are exposed to depend on various factors, including our location and the time of day. Scientists use a unit called a roentgen to measure radiation exposure. One roentgen is equal to the amount of radiation it takes to produce one electrostatic unit of charge in one cubic centimeter of air.

Jupiter
Courtesy of TheSpaceway (Pixabay CC0)

The Effects of Radiation

It’s been a little over a year since Juno entered into orbit around Jupiter, and in that time, it has captured some stunningly colorful imagery of the gas giant.

As Juno continues its journey around Jupiter, it faces a severe radiation threat. The high-energy particles in Jupiter’s radiation belts could cause permanent damage to Juno’s electronics.

So far, Juno has managed to withstand the radiation levels, but it’s still unclear whether or not the spacecraft will be able to last the whole five-year mission.

Strategies for Protecting Against Radiation

Juno, NASA’s advanced spacecraft designed to orbit and study Jupiter, is currently on its way to the gas giant. Juno will orbit Jupiter for 20 months upon reaching its destination, providing never-before-seen imagery of the planet and its many moons.

Why Is Juno at Risk?

When Juno was launched in 2011, scientists knew it would be flying close to Jupiter’s radiation belts, but they didn’t know the full extent of the danger.

The radiation belts are two huge doughnut-shaped regions of charged particles that surround the planet. They’re created by the planet’s strong magnetic field and are extremely dangerous to spacecraft.

Juno is currently in orbit around Jupiter and will remain there for 20 months. During this time, it will be subjected to unprecedented radiation levels for a spacecraft.

So why take the risk? Juno’s mission is to study Jupiter’s interior and its atmosphere. By flying through the radiation belts, Juno can gather the information that couldn’t be obtained outside the straps.

What Does the Future Hold?

So what does the future hold for Juno? Unfortunately, a radiation threat looms over its journey. The harsh radiation in Jupiter’s magnetosphere can easily penetrate the weaker parts of a spacecraft and presents a significant threat to the mission.

JPL is currently working on several methods to protect Juno from this radiation, but there’s no guarantee they will succeed. The spacecraft is scheduled to reach Jupiter in early July 2016.

Juno’s Design

The Juno spacecraft is barreling towards Jupiter, but radiation could be its undoing. The spacecraft is designed to withstand radiation levels up to 5,000 rem, but it’s expected to experience levels of radiation 16 times greater than that. While the Juno team is confident that the spacecraft will make it through the journey, they keep a close eye on the radiation levels.

Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
Edited by Sheena Robertson

Sources:

Space: Jupiter is a whirling world in stunning (and woozy) footage from Juno spacecraft; by Elizabeth Howell
MSN: Jupiter is a whirling world in stunning (and woozy) footage from Juno spacecraft; by Elizabeth Howell
Live Mint: Jupiter is a whirling world in stunning (and woozy) footage from Juno spacecraft; by Sayantani Biswas

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of  NASA‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of TheSpaceway‘s Pixabay Page – Creative Commons License

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