Juice’s odyssey of exploration
The European Space Agency (ESA)’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) — has collected its first scientific data as it starts its eight-year cruise through space to the fifth planet. The mission — which launched two Fridays ago on April 14 — is presently in its “commissioning” phase, during which its antennas, booms, sensors and instruments are to be gradually deployed and brought online over the course of the next few months. Last Friday, JUICE deployed the boom for its magnetometer, “J-MAG”, when the craft was some 1.1 million miles from the Earth. Data collected by J-MAG itself captured this process as it happened.
The ESA have published a plot of the magnetic field strength recorded by J-MAG’s two sensors both before and during the deployment of the boom arm.
They explained: “The two sensors are mounted on the outer segment of the boom, and separated by about three metres [10 feet].
“The labels OBS [red] and IBS [turquoise] indicate the data from the outboard and inboard sensors, respectively.
“OBS is mounted close to the end of the 10.6 metre [35 foot] boom.”
The ESA continued: “The left side of the plot shows the field trace before the boom deployment.
“The sensors are up against the side of the spacecraft, and OBS is located close to two spacecraft thrusters, which are quite magnetic, explaining the difference in the two field magnitudes.
“The plot lines change as the boom deployment occurs, starting just after 14:29.38 UT and taking approximately two seconds.”
“Thereafter, the two field magnitudes are at a similar level, trending towards zero and stable, indicating that the boom has deployed the full 10.6 m and both sensors are measuring the ambient solar wind field.”
According to the ESA, the data on boom deployment was gathered with only very preliminary calibrations of JUICE’s magnetometer.
Detailed commissioning of the instrument is scheduled to start next week — and will include operation in J-MAG’s more sensitive ranges.
This undertaking will also see J-MAG’s third sensor, which will measure the magnitude of the magnetic field, brought online for the first time.
When JUICE arrives in the Jupiter system in 2031, it will use its magnetometer to characterise the magnetic field of the gas giant, and how such interacts with that of the giant moon Ganymede.
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The JUICE spacecraft has been equipped with ten different scientific instruments to study both the atmosphere, magnetic environment, ring system and satellites of Jupiter; as well as the moons of Callisto, Europa, Ganymede, characterising their oceans, icy shells, surfaces and activity.
Data collected should help scientists better understand how gas giants form, how Jupiter’s complex environment has shaped its moons and vice versa, the nature of the subsurface oceans on the Jovian moons and whether such now or once supported life.
The craft even includes an ice-penetrating radar system that will allow scientists to map out the subsurface oceans.
The findings from this undertaking could well help scientists plan a potential future mission deploying a submersible craft into these waters.
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