On Wednesday, January 13, NASA’s Juno spacecraft reached 493 million miles or 793 million kilometers away from the sun – the farthest ever attained by any human mission from Earth. The phenomenal event occurred at around 11 am PST or 2 pm EST.
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The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft in October 2012 achieved an equal feat as the first spacecraft to reach that distance with 492-million-mile (or 792-million-kilometer) when it approached the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
"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," he added.
Juno launched in 2011 as the first solar-powered spacecraft to operate at such large distance from the sun. The solar panels on the spacecraft have very large surfaces, and 4-ton spacecraft carries about 30-foot-long or 9-meter solar arrays held down with 18,698 solar cells; and they are capable of generating about 14 kilowatts of electricity at about Earth’s distance from the sun.
"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, Calif. "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."
Bolton noted that the science team behind the mission is seasoned engineers and scientists able to score a goal as a first in space exploration. He added that they are scoring space records and venturing out so far into deep space so as to better understand our universe and the entire solar system where Earth is located.
Juno spacecraft will get to Jupiter on July 4, 2016; and it is expected that a year after this, the spacecraft will orbit Jupiter approximately 33 times, and going round to nearly 3,100 miles or 5,000 kilometers at the top of the planet almost every 14 days.
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During this flyby, Juno will analyze the origin, structure, atmosphere and general composition of Jupiter and transmit this information back to Earth.