Juno Breaks Record as the Farthest Solar Powered Space Probe from the Sun

January 19, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Artist's concept of Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter
Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The previous record breaker was the European Space Agency’s Rosetta.

When NASA’s Juno space probe left Earth in 2011, it was specially designed to be able to function on solar power at an incredible distance from the sun. On January 13, it broke the record for the farthest from the sun a solar powered space probe has ever traveled — a record previously held by the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Rosetta — and isn’t done yet. At it’s farthest, it will be at 517 million miles (832 million kilometers) from the sun.

"Juno is all about pushing the edge of technology to help us learn about our origins," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "We use every known technique to see through Jupiter's clouds and reveal the secrets Jupiter holds of our solar system’s early history. It just seems right that the sun is helping us learn about the origin of Jupiter and the other planets that orbit it."

Weighing four tons, Juno is equipped with three 30-foot-long (9-meter) solar arrays carrying 18,698 solar cells. The amount of electricity they can generate depends heavily on the probe’s distance from the sun. At Earth’s distance, it is about 14 kilowatts of electricity, but that continues to diminish as Juno approaches Jupiter.

SEE ALSO: Now that It's Passed Pluto, What's Next for New Horizons?

"Jupiter is five times farther from the sun than Earth, and the sunlight that reaches that far out packs 25 times less punch," said Rick Nybakken, Juno's project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "While our massive solar arrays will be generating only 500 watts when we are at Jupiter, Juno is very efficiently designed, and it will be more than enough to get the job done."

Juno isn’t the first spacecraft to have traveled this far from the sun by any means. However, the others such as the Voyager probes and New Horizons, all used nuclear power.

Juno will reach Jupiter on July 4, 2016 and orbit it 33 times. Its mission is to study Jupiter’s aurorae located beneath the clouds to try to understand its origin and current conditions.

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, and although it is a gas planet and doesn’t have any solid ground, it has powerful winds and an intense storm known as Jupiter’s Red Spot.

Based on information provided by NASA.

Hot Topics

Facebook comments